Luzerne County priests prominent in abuse list

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
Graphic by Mark Guydish -

Of the 59 Scranton Diocese priests identified as predators in the state grand jury report released Tuesday, 44 served in Luzerne County at some point.

That is probably not surprising, as Luzerne remains the most populous of the diocese’s 11 counties, many of which are rural, rugged and sparsely populated.

The more staggering statistic, perhaps, is the vast range in ages among the accused clerics, testifying to how far back the alleged pattern of abuse goes.

Two of the 59, Martin Fleming and James Nolan, were born in the 19th century — in 1869 and 1897, respectively — and died years before several of the other alleged abusers were even born.

To put that into perspective, consider that Fleming was born the year after the diocese was founded, and ordained in 1898.

According to the report, a woman came forward in 2006 to say she had been sexually abused by Fleming in 1940, when she was 6. The report does not say where, but indicates Fleming’s final known assignment was in Swoyersville, and that he died in 1950.

By contrast, some of the alleged abuse by other priests took place much more recently — as with Father Philip A. Altavilla, who was arrested in 2014 on allegations of indecent assault and related charges against a teen in the late 1990s.

While the charges were later dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, the grand jury report shows, “not for lack of merit.”

Readers may also notice some missing names, overlap and inconsistencies.

The report identifies 59 Scranton priests, but six names are redacted pending a court challenge.

At the same time, the diocesan website lists the names of 70 employees against whom it says allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been admitted, established or determined to be credible.

The discrepancy between the two was a result of additional individuals, including non-clergy, investigated by the diocese separate from the grand jury process.

Graphic by Mark Guydish by Mark Guydish

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]