The bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Manchester, N.H., has been accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the 1980s while working as a parish priest on Long Island, N.Y., according to a lawsuit filed by the alleged victim.
The man alleges in the lawsuit that Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci used his position as a trusted priest and pastor at Saints Cyril and Methodius Roman Catholic Church and school in Deer Park, N.Y., to “manipulate, sexually abuse and sexually harass” him when he was a child in 1983 and 1984. The assaults included fondling and groping of the boy’s genitals and on one occasion the abuse occurred in the sacristy of the parish while the boy was preparing the altar for Mass, the lawsuit alleges.
The Manchester diocese was informed of the lawsuit, filed last week in Suffolk Supreme Court in New York, and has not taken any action against Libasci, according to a diocese spokeswoman.
“At this time, the status of the Bishop remains unchanged,” Bevin Kennedy said in an e-mail. “Following standard protocol, the matter has been reported to civil authorities. Because this is an ongoing matter and out of respect for the individuals involved, the Diocese will not be providing additional information at this time but will provide updates when we are able to do so.”
Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where Libasci served as a pastor at the time of the alleged abuse, said the diocese has notified the local district attorney and the Holy See, and is following procedures established by Pope Francis in 2019 for investigating bishops and other church leaders accused of sexual abuse or mishandling allegations involving clergy.
“The Diocese of Rockville Centre remains committed to the ongoing work of creating a safe environment in the Church,” Dolan said in a statement.
Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, said he would expect that Libasci would step down if the accusation is credible, at least until an investigation is complete.
“I mean it would be foolhardy to try to continue to function as a bishop with this kind of accusation against him,” said Groome. “Given the kind of cloud that this would bring to his episcopal responsibilities I think he’d be well advised to step down temporarily at least until the matter is properly investigated.”
News of the lawsuit was reported Wednesday by NH Reporter. The lawyer for the accuser did not respond to a request for comment. The Globe is withholding the name of the man who filed the suit based on its policy of not identifying alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.
Libasci, 69, was installed as the Manchester diocese’s 10th bishop in 2011, succeeding Bishop John B. McCormack, who had admitted during civil court proceedings that he shielded the identities of priests accused of sexually abusing children while handling complaints for the Boston archdiocese in the 1990s.
Born in Queens, N.Y., Libasci was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in 1978 by Bishop John R. McGann, who was accused of sexual abuse in lawsuits filed by victims after his 2002 death.
He was assigned to St. Raymond Church in East Rockaway, N.Y., and then to Saints Cyril and Methodius until 1988. He later worked at other churches in New Jersey and New York before his assignment to New Hampshire.
The accuser attended Saints Cyril and Methodius school from ages 6 to 13 and was repeatedly molested by Libasci during his last two years, according to the lawsuit. At the time, Libasci was the church pastor and provided religious instruction. The “dominating culture” of the Catholic church over the alleged victim pressured him not to report the sexual abuse, the suit states.
The school merged with another Catholic school in 2001 and was renamed Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The lawsuit names Libasci, the parish, the schools, and Sisters of Saint Joseph, the order of nuns that taught at the school. The parish, school, and nuns knew, should have known, or “knowingly condoned or covered up” sexual abuse by Libasci, the lawsuit alleges.
In July 2019, as part of the Vatican’s worldwide response to clergy sexual abuse, the Manchester diocese published on its website a list of priests accused of sexually abusing minors since 1950, along with a message from Libasci.
“I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed,” Libasci wrote. “Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing. I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust.”
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a longtime advocate for sexual abuse victims, does not represent the alleged victim who filed suit against Libasci but said the bishop should be suspended from ministry immediately. Police “should conduct a thorough investigation so that the truth is revealed,” he said.
“The naming of Bishop Libasci as a pedophile reflects a growing trend in the clergy sexual abuse of priests in powerful supervisory positions being named as not only enablers of clergy sexual abuse, but also as pedophiles,” Garabedian said in a statement. “This comes as no surprise given the magnitude and depth of clergy sexual abuse nationally and internationally.”
Garabedia represents several victims who filed a lawsuit two years ago alleging that the late bishop, McGann, sexually abused them as children in the 1960s when he was a priest in New York. That case is still pending.
BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit group that tracks clergy sexual abuse, has identified about 78 Catholic bishops worldwide accused publicly of sexual crimes against children, including 38 in the United States.
Earlier this month, Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz of the Diocese of Buffalo voluntarily stepped away from active ministry pending an investigation into allegations that he molested a child in 1990.
In April, at the pope’s request, Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner resigned from the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., following an investigation into claims that he mishandled allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
In 2019, former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and of sexual crimes against minors and adults.
A report released by the Vatican last year revealed that bishops, cardinals, and popes had dismissed allegations of sexual misconduct against McCarrick dating back to 1999.