Diocese of Scranton priest faced corruption of minor charges

Last updated: August 01. 2014 11:41PM - 3013 Views
By James O’Malley jomalley@civitasmedia.com

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SCRANTON — A judge dismissed corruption of minors and indecent assault charges against the Rev. Philip Altavilla Friday morning.

Attorney Paul Walker said Luzerne County Judge Michael Barrasse threw out the charges because the statute of limitations on them had passed.

“We thought we could win on the merits, too,” Walker said, but he added he’ll gladly accept victory based on statute of limitations to keep his client out of court.

However, the publicity Altavilla faces in the wake of the case may make it difficult for him to move on, Walker said.

Before charges were brought against him in April, Altavilla was a popular priest within the Diocese of Scranton and held many prominent positions, including pastor at the diocese seat, chaplain for Boy Scouts of America and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Dunmore.

He graduated from Bishop Hoban High School in 1984, and in 2002 he presided over his father’s funeral at Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ church in Wilkes-Barre. He publicly acknowledged his status as an adoptee during a Mother’s Day Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in 2011.

Altavilla was a frequent guest homilist at St. John the Evangelist in Pittston and St. Jude’s in Mountain Top, and also served in the position of vicar general before being relieved of duties the same day of his arrest.

The Diocese of Scranton issued the following statement this afternoon:

“While it appears that the civil investigation into Father Altavilla’s inappropriate behavior has been resolved, in consideration of the circumstances surrounding the priest’s arrest, further investigation is warranted from an ecclesiastical standpoint prior to the rendering of a final disposition regarding his status in the Church.

“Until such time, Father Altavilla remains on a leave of absence and is prohibited from exercising priestly ministry.”

The priest was charged in April based on allegations from a woman who said Altavilla made inappropriate contact with her 16 years ago.

During a preliminary hearing in May, the alleged victim testified that she had been drinking wine with “Father Phil” Altavilla and two other adults in a rectory on Dec. 25, 1998, following midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Scranton.

Scranton police detective Vincent Uher said police intercepted and recorded a phone call between Altavilla and the alleged victim in which the priest admitted to drinking with the woman, knowing she was 13 years old at the time and asking her to put her legs on his lap.

According to a police affidavit, Altavilla also admitted to “placing his hand up her leg” and said the contact was “inappropriate.”

Altavilla’s defense attorney addressed the statute of limitations during a preliminary hearing in May, but District Judge John Mercuri still decided to send the case to trial.

A message with the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s office was not returned Friday.

Neither Altavilla nor the alleged victim could be reached for comment.

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