By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
The New York lawsuit filed last year that accuses New Hampshire’s Bishop Peter Libasci of sexually abusing a child in the 1980s is stalled in court, with nothing happening in the case since it was filed last July.
The reason for the inaction is the more than 500 other claims of abuse lodged against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. The diocese filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020, which put a halt on all the potential abuse lawsuits.
Now, it looks like a resolution to the cases is possible. The diocese is set to begin mediation talks with lawyers for the complainants next week, according to statements made during a bankruptcy court hearing this week.
A dispute between the diocese and attorneys for some of the complainants threatened to stall the case further.
There are attorneys representing child sex abuse victims, and an attorney representing a committee for adult victims of abuse. The matter boiled down to an issue about how the diocese is to publish notifications for the adult victims, letting them know of the deadline to file cases.
Since there are currently no adult victims part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Southern District of New York United States Bankruptcy Court Judge Martin Glenn told the attorneys this dispute should no impact on the mediation with the child abuse survivors.
“I would be very disappointed if someone used this as a reason not to push forward with the mediation,” Glenn said. “You’ve got to get in the same room. This case needs to get moving.”
Libasci has maintained his innocence since news of the lawsuit, filed in the Suffolk County Supreme Court in New York, first became public. Libasci’s legal team filed a motion a year ago that denies all the allegations and demands that the case be dismissed. Libasci is also seeking to recover attorney fees from his accuser.
The accuser’s complaint claims that he was groped by Libasci at around the age of 13, when Libasci was a parish priest in the Rockville Centre diocese. The lawsuit claims that church officials should have known Libasci should not have been around children.
Libasci served as the auxiliary bishop in Rockville Centre starting in 2017. He’s been the bishop in Manchester for the last 10 years, taking over for scandal-plagued Bishop John McCormack who was found to have helped former Boston Archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law cover up decades of sexual abuse.
The status of a separate Church investigation into the allegation against Libasci is unknown. Under the Vos Estis protocols put forward by Pope Francis in 2019, bishops accused of abuse are subject to a new form of discipline from Rome, including a Church investigation conducted within 90 days of the accusation being made.
Such Vos Estis investigations are typically conducted by the local metropolitan, in this case, Archbishop Sean Cardinal O’Malley in Boston. Boston officials have declined to comment on the matter, and representatives for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have yet to return calls.