The Catholic Diocese of Scranton was established in the mid-19th century and covers the northeastern section of the state.
Former New York Cardinal John J. O’Connor was bishop of Scranton briefly in the 1980’s before being named as Archbishop of New York. His successor was James Timlin who served the diocese from 1984 until 2003. Timlin’s reign was characterized by defending and covering-up for pedophile priests and silencing or trying to pay off victims. Scranton priest Robert Caparelli was one of the most notorious of the 59 Scranton priests named in the Grand Jury Report. Here are some excerpts from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report:
“On July 14, 1992, yet another complaint about Caparelli was received by Timlin. The letter advised that Caparelli had abused 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old boys as far back as 1967 at Most Precious Blood parish. The writer indicated that he had knowledge of the abuse because he, his brother, and their friends were all victims.
Over the years, many more victims came forward. Caparelli faced additional charges and ultimately pled guilty to offenses against children and received prison time. While in prison it was discovered that Caparelli had been HIV-positive for years.
In December, 1994, Caparelli died while incarcerated. Timlin and the Diocese of Scranton never fully disclosed the decades of knowledge and inaction that left children in danger and in contact with Caparelli. Press accounts and some limited public statements provided a few details of the abuse while the Diocese largely relied upon excuses related to a claimed lack of understanding of the depth of Caparelli’s problem. The Grand Jury noted that even when no doubt could be left regarding Caparelli’s guilt, the Diocese was determined to provide more aid to Caparelli than to his victims. A stunning example of this was found in a letter from Timlin to Caparelli’s sentencing judge in October 1993 following Caparelli’s convictions for crimes against children. The letter carbon copied the President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, Senator Robert Mellow. In it, Timlin requested that Caparelli be released from prison to a Catholic treatment facility – like those that had so often authorized the return of Pennsylvania’s predatory priests to active ministry – Saint Luke’s Institute in Maryland and the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico.”
In addition to aiding and abetting a known criminal, Timlin fought to shield the Church from publicity and lawsuits. In one 1990’s lawsuit, Timlin fought to keep the secret archives from being disclosed to Caparelli survivors in spite of the fact that Timlin knew Caparelli had raped a child in the rectory. The Grand Jury Report notes,
“Within Caparelli’s personnel file, the Grand Jury found a letter from John M. Quinn, Esquire. The letter, dated September 3, 1991 and marked received September 6, 1991, appeared to have been shared with the Diocese of Scranton through Bishop Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie. The letter suggested a way to reorganize any diocese to minimize recovery by victims of child sexual abuse in the event that “a large judgement is rendered against the Bishop and the Diocese in a pedophile case.” The Grand Jury noted that at that time scores of predatory priests were still in active ministry in the dioceses of Pennsylvania, and one of them was Caparelli.”
Timlin’s treatment of Caparelli was not the only outrage in the Diocese of Scranton. The Grand Jury Report revealed Timlin paid a family $75,000 to remain silent about a priest, Thomas Skotek, who raped a teenage girl, got her pregnant and arranged for her to get an abortion. Skotek resigned as Pastor of Saint Stanislaus Church, Hazleton. Timlin wrote to the rapist on October 9, 1986: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I share your grief. (…) With the help of God, who never abandons us and who is always near, when we need him, this too will pass away, and all will be able to pick up and go on living. Please be assured that I am most willing to do whatever I can do to help.”
After a stay in a Catholic center for psychological evaluation, Skotek was assigned to another parish. He continued his ministry until 2002.
Bishop Emeritus James Timlin had knowledge of more than two dozen cases before and during his nearly 20-year tenure.
The allegations of abuse are shocking enough in themselves, including rape, sexual assault, underage drinking and an abortion. How they were handled — or in many cases suppressed — by church leaders over decades was a central focus of the Grand Jury investigation. In the Scranton Diocese, Timlin is the leader whose name stands out in many cases cited by the grand jury.
Under Timlin’s watch, the report states, some of the alleged abusers were sent to church-run psychiatric treatment centers, then returned to duty at different parishes or at churches in other states — with recommendations from the longtime bishop, who led the diocese from 1984 until 2003.
Others were shuffled into roles that minimized their contact with the public, but retained their status within the church.
Timlin’s attitude is best exemplified in the testimony of Tim Olivieri who overheard Timlin comment on the abuse crisis. Tim Olivieri says he was studying to be a priest in 2007 when Bishop Emeritus Timlin visited the Oblates of St. Joseph Seminary in Laflin. Olivieri spoke with a reporter who wrote:
“It was supposed to be a joyous occasion: The Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, which celebrates the seminary’s namesake.”
But Olivieri says he will never forget how quickly Timlin’s mood soured when the distinguished guest suddenly faced an innocent question.
“Someone asked how he was doing,” Olivieri said.
“I’m still dealing with this Liberatore situation,” Olivieri said he heard an “annoyed” Timlin respond.
Albert M. Liberatore Jr. was by then a defrocked priest and convicted sex offender whose abuse of a teenage altar boy had gotten himself and the diocese sued in federal court in 2004.
After several years of legal maneuvering, March 19, 2007, brought a watershed moment: Federal Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled that day there was enough evidence to send the case to trial, despite the diocese’s arguments to the contrary.
“You know, the lawyers wouldn’t like me talking about this, but since I’m among friends,” Olivieri said Timlin continued.
“This used to be so easy when these things happened. We’d give them four years of college for free. They’d take their degrees and they’d move on,” Olivieri heard Timlin go on. “Now everybody wants their pound of flesh.”
“I was a little shocked,” Olivieri told the Times Leader last week. “This was part of dinner conversation.”
Timlin reportedly had more to say.
“These people want to take easy money,” Olivieri said he heard Timlin add. “If they really want to get over it, they should offer forgiveness.”
‘This too will pass away.’
The present bishop Joseph Bambera, who had served as the Vicar for Priests for the Diocese of Scranton from 1995 to 1998, admitted that during that time he had helped then-Bishop Timlin reassign a priest who had abused a minor, although the decision was made by Timlin.
The Diocese of Scranton has a long history of covering up for sexually abusive priests and mistreating survivors. The callous attitude of their former bishop is a clear indication that, as Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, the Catholic Church cannot police itself.