Bishop Peter A. Libasci — the New York native who brought calm to the scandal-plagued Catholic diocese of New Hampshire 10 years ago — has been accused of groping an altar boy in Long Island, N.Y., as a young priest.
According to a lawsuit filed last week in Suffolk County, N.Y., Libasci fondled and groped a boy aged 12 or 13 “on numerous occasions” in 1983 and 1984. At the time, Libasci was in his early 30s and had been a priest for about five years.
The lawsuit also hints that Long Island church leaders knew of previous problems with Libasci but believed they had been “fixed and cured.”
Libasci, 69, has been the Bishop of Manchester since 2011. He replaced Bishop John McCormack, who became embroiled in the priest sexual abuse scandal in Boston and committed to reforms to avoid prosecution of the church by New Hampshire authorities.
The diocese was mum about one of those reforms on Thursday .
According to the diocese’s website, a priest active in ministry will be removed from his duties if an accusation involving sexual abuse of a minor is deemed plausible or “has the semblance of truth.”
In a statement, the diocese said “at this time, the status of the Bishop remains unchanged.”
Bevin Kennedy, the cabinet secretary of communications and development, did not answer an email asking whether the diocese had made a determination about the plausibility of the accusation against Libasci.
The diocese’s statement did not contain a denial of the lawsuit’s allegations.
“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,” the statement read.
The lawsuit was filed July 14 in Suffolk County Supreme Court and was posted online by WMUR-TV.
Named as defendants in the suit are Libasci, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Saints Cyril and Methodius School and its successor school, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School. The alleged victim’s name is redacted in the online copy.
“Specifically, the abuse included, but was not limited to, Abuser fondling and groping ... Plaintiff’s genitals,” the suit reads. “Said sexual abuse occurred on one occasion in the sacristy of the Parish while ... Plaintiff was preparing the altar for mass.”
It uses the phrase “sexual deviancy” to describe Libasci’s actions and refers to the possibility of previous issues.
“The Parish negligently or recklessly believed Abuser was fit to work with children, that any previous problems Abuser had were fixed and cured, that Abuser would not sexually molest children, and that Abuser would not injure children,” the suit reads.
The lawyer who filed the suit, Adam Slater of the New York City law firm Slater Slater Schulman, did not return emails.
The priest sexual abuse scandal that tarred McCormack’s years had little stain on Libasci, who was installed as the New Hampshire bishop in December 2011.
Three years ago, Libasci launched a Restoring Trust page on the diocese’s website, which lists priests credibly accused of abuse as far back as the 1950s.
“It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor,” Libasci said in announcing the website.