Abuse Witnesses Muzzled?
Priest's E-Mail: Diocese Attorney Told 3 Church Workers to Be 'Less Than Honest'
By Dave Janoski firstname.lastname@example.org
July 13, 2006
Scranton – An attorney for the Scranton Diocese encouraged three witnesses to be "less than honest" when testifying in a federal lawsuit stemming from the abuse of a teenage boy by a diocesan priest, according to an exhibit in the case.
• Read Father Williams' e-mail about Bishop Timlin
The witnesses, employees of a Duryea church, were told last year not to testify about their belief that then-Bishop James C. Timlin might be unwilling to pursue allegations against Father Albert M. Liberatore Jr., the exhibit says.
The witnesses had the impression "Timlin was, as it were, in Fr. Liberatore's 'HIP POCKET,'?" according to the exhibit, a November 2005 e-mail authored by another priest who had served with Liberatore. They also believed Liberatore was "holding something over Timlin's head."
Timlin, in an interview Wednesday, called the claims "ridiculous."
The priest who wrote the e-mail, Father Edward Williams, wrote that he and the witnesses had been "told" about Timlin's possible reluctance to pursue allegations against Liberatore, but he did not identify who told them. Williams could not be reached for comment.
The e-mail has been filed as an exhibit in a suit in U.S. District Court against Liberatore, Timlin and the diocese. Liberatore's victim, identified only as John Doe, claims Timlin failed to act when other priests informed the diocese of their suspicions about Liberatore in 2000.
Liberatore was arrested in 2004 after a diocesan investigation under Timlin's successor, Bishop Joseph F. Martino, concluded Liberatore had abused the boy from 1999, when he was 14, through 2002. Liberatore pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case and was placed on probation for 10 years.
Timlin, now bishop emeritus, said Wednesday the claims in the e-mail were "absolutely untrue."
"I can't deny that someone would say that, but anyone could say anything about anybody. That is certainly not true and I resent them saying that.
"I'm not in anybody's pocket."
Timlin has been criticized by alleged victims of abuse and their attorneys, who say he failed to protect parishioners from abusive priests in his 19 years as bishop of Scranton. He declined comment on any other aspect of the Liberatore case, saying he is scheduled to be formally questioned by attorneys in the case in preparation for a trial in January.
"I'm going to be deposed very soon and I don't think the lawyers want me to be talking."
Williams is assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Duryea, where Liberatore was pastor from July 1998 through July 2003. Williams became concerned about Liberatore's relationship with the teenage victim shortly after Williams arrived at Sacred Heart in July 2001. Williams took those concerns to Monsignor John Bendik, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston, according to the court record.
It's unclear if Bendik ever told his superiors about Williams' concerns. He declined comment Wednesday.
In fall 2000, several months before Williams approached Bendik, Timlin was made aware of other priests' suspicions about Liberatore, but failed to present the allegations to a diocesan review board or inform the victim's family, according to the federal suit.
In November 2005, about two months before Williams was to be deposed in the federal suit, he wrote the e-mail to Bendik about a recent meeting between three women who worked at Sacred Heart and a diocesan lawyer, "Mr. O'Brien," who was preparing them for their depositions. Williams was not present at the meeting.
But, according to the e-mail, the three women told Williams:
"The REAL PURPOSE of the meeting was to give the diocesan lawyer the opportunity to encourage these women to be LESS THAN HONEST in the testatmony (sic) they would give …."
Williams wrote that he and the women went to Bendik in 2001 because of their belief that Timlin was in Liberatore's "hip pocket."
"Yesterday, at this meeting, the women were all but ordered NOT TO SAY THIS," Williams wrote.
"I can only conjecture that the Diocese doesn't want me to say this either however THIS IS THE TRUTH (and by the truth I mean we honestly believed it whether it was in reality true or not)! This was, as you know, why I approached you with my concerns rather than going directly to the Diocese!"
Williams wrote to Bendik that he had discussed his upcoming deposition and his beliefs about Timlin and Liberatore with diocesan Chancellor James Earley, who told him to testify truthfully and assured him not to fear reprisal from the diocese.
Williams wrote that he wouldn't "lie for the diocese," but he was scared: "Will the Diocese then come after me in vengeance, Jim Earley's reassurances notwithstanding?"
The three women could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Diocesan spokesman William Genello said diocesan officials would have no comment.
But attorney James E. O'Brien Jr., who, with his brother, Joseph A. O'Brien, represents the diocese in the Liberatore suit, said that in their depositions, the women and Williams offered "no testimony about anybody being in anybody's hip pocket."
"Those individuals all testified under oath and they said nothing about being less than honest. The e-mail sits out there by itself. It's not consistent with any evidence in this case."
O'Brien declined comment on whether he or his brother met with the women. Asked if the women were told to be less than honest, he declined comment.
Williams' e-mail message is at the center of a pretrial argument about whether he should be deposed a second time in the case against Timlin, the diocese and Liberatore, one of at least 25 diocesan priests accused of having sexual contact with a minor since 1950.
In his January deposition, Williams testified he approached Bendik rather than diocesan officials because Bendik had a "reputation" as a "holy man" and "straight shooter," according to excerpts of a transcript filed with the court. He made no mention of being leery of contacting Timlin, according to court documents.
But in March, when Bendik was deposed, he provided attorneys with the November 2005 e-mail from Williams.
On Tuesday, Daniel Brier, the attorney for Liberatore's victim, filed a letter to U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, asking that Williams be deposed again to answer questions about differences between his first deposition and his e-mail to Bendik. The diocese had denied a request to voluntarily produce Williams for another deposition, Brier wrote. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Attorneys for the victim and the diocese held a telephone conference with the judge on the issue Wednesday, but it has yet to be resolved.
Diocesan attorney O'Brien said the diocese is not opposed to Williams being deposed again:
"The position of the diocese is that Father Williams ought to have to answer this petition himself and perhaps he ought to have (his own) counsel to answer it."
On the web
Read the full text of Father Edward Williams' e-mail about Bishop Timlin. Go to www.timesleader.com.
Associate Editor/Investigative Dave Janoski can be reached at 829-7255.
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