A lawsuit alleging the bishop of Manchester abused an altar boy in the early 1980s is part of a wave of clergy abuse suits in New York, where a law passed in 2019 opened a temporary exemption from the statute of limitations.
The exemption allows survivors of abuse decades ago to come forward with their claims, and seek recompense.
The look-back window will close Aug. 14. Thousands of survivors of abuse in New York have come forward, including more than 200 lawsuits against the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where Bishop Peter A. Libasci served as a priest in the 1980s. The diocese filed for bankruptcy in September 2020
Libasci had not been named in an abuse lawsuit until the complaint filed earlier this month in New York’s Suffolk County Superior Court alleged he groped an altar boy in 1983 and 1984, when the boy was 12 and 13 years old.
Through an attorney, Libasci denied the allegations on Friday.
“The allegation that, almost 40 years ago, Bishop Libasci assaulted an individual while serving as a parish priest in Deer Park, New York is not true,” the statement from attorney Michael J. Connolly read.
“While Bishop Libasci has great compassion for victims of sexual abuse, he will be forced to vigorously defend against these false allegations in court.”
The person who said in the lawsuit he was abused is suing for punitive and compensatory damages exceeding $25,000. Libasci is named as a defendant, as are a Long Island parish and school and an order of nuns.
The plaintiff argues the school, church and order should have done more to prevent abuse.
The lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the alleged victim, Adam Slater of the New York City law firm Slater Slater Schulman, did not return emails or phone messages.
Last year, New Hampshire eliminated the statute of limitations for people who survived abuse as children, allowing survivors unlimited time to file lawsuits against the people they say abused them and institutions that did not prevent abuse. The change was part of the Crime Victims’ Rights Enhancement Act of 2020.
Abuse suits in New Hampshire have followed, including a lawsuit alleging widespread abuse in juvenile detention facilities, including the Sununu Youth Services Center or Youth Development Center dating back to the 1980s and 1990s.
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.
Under Libasci, the diocese launched a page on the diocese’s website listing priests “credibly” accused of abuse as far back as the 1950s. Libasci has written about the devastation of sexual abuse in the church.
“I have heard from many of you, either directly or indirectly, that you are justifiably angry, discouraged, and saddened that Church leadership has breached your trust and failed to protect children, youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults adequately,” he wrote in 2018.
Libasci has met with abuse survivors during his tenure as bishop and has participated in meetings of bishops on preventing abuse.
“It pains me to hear these accounts, but hearing from these people has reinforced my resolve to do all in my power to prevent these evils from occurring ever again,” Libasci wrote in 2019.
The Diocese of Manchester said Thursday that Libasci’s position in the church remained unchanged.