Parishioners Stunned By Child Sex Abuse Charges Against Priest

SCRANTON — Father Philip Altavilla was the pastor at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton for the past few years, making him one of the most visible priests in the Diocese of Scranton. He has been removed from his post since being arrested and charged Thursday night with indecent assault and corruption of minors.

The charges stem from allegations that Altavilla abused a teenage girl back in 1998.

As pastor of the Diocese of Scranton’s flagship church, Fr. Altavilla has preached in front of thousands. He’s now been suspended from his priestly duties after those allegations of child sexual abuse.

Altavilla was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors stemming from a 1998 incident where he allegedly molested a 13-year-old girl.

That girl was an altar server at St. Patrick’s Church in west Scranton where Altavilla once was pastor. According to court papers, Altavilla gave the girl alcohol after Christmas Eve midnight mass in 1998.

He then drove her to a parking lot on Academy Street in Scranton. The girl told police he took off her shoes and touched her legs and feet.

Investigators say in a phone call this week, Altavilla told the girl he has a foot fetish and knew touching her when she was 13 was “inappropriate”.

After Altavilla was arrested, the Diocese of Scranton removed him from his post at St. Peter’s Cathedral.

He did not attend the church’s daily mass on Friday afternoon.

“He was very outspoken about the religious rights being taken away by the Obama administration. He was a priest that spoke up about that,” said parishioner Louis Cuck of Moosic.

His parishioners said Fr. Altavilla was an energetic leader and passionate about religious rights.

Newswatch 16 talked to him in 2013 at a pro-life rally in Scranton.

At the first mass after his arrest, parishioners had different emotions about their pastor and their Catholic Church, again enduring a black mark from allegations of sexual abuse.

“I can’t picture this happening, and I’m hurt over it because he gave me my server’s job a couple of years ago,” said altar server Bill Nolan of Scranton.

Bishop for the Diocese of Scranton, Joseph Bambera, released a statement after Fr. Altavilla’s arrest saying he is “angry and demoralized” by Altavilla’s alleged actions.

Altavilla has been suspended by the Diocese.

Investigators with the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office have not said if they believe there are more victims. But, they are saying that their investigation of Fr. Altavilla remains open.

45 comments

  • Find something better to do with your time

    Clearly, all of you that rant and rave about this have nothing better to do with your lives. You pass judgment as if you were God, Himself, and criticize anyone who expresses a genuine concern for the priest here. If you knew him, which many of you obviously don’t, you wouldn’t be so quick to judge. I agree, what he did was WRONG, but let the judgment come from the courts and God, not from your distorted views. My final comment on this is simple, I will believe that the victim was really traumatized by all of this, if she walks away without a financial settlement from the Catholic Church.

    • Find something better to do with your time

      You have comments on basically every statement made on here, that exercises the right of free speech, not necessarily in support but also with questions.. You clearly have entirely too much time on your hands. Look at the log in your own eye, as you like to quote the Bible. And go to Church, if you’re even a Catholic, because clearly you don’t know the basics of religion. Forgiveness, not persecution. Would Barabbas have been your choice too?

    • nepawoods

      “You clearly have entirely too much time on your hands.”

      Right, because no time should be taken to denounce blaming the victim when the perpetrator is a priest.

      It takes me less time to write a reply here than it takes you to earn the dollar you’ll put in the collection basket to help pay for Fr. Frosty’s child foot fetish.

      “Look at the log in your own eye, as you like to quote the Bible.”

      I don’t preach what I don’t practice. You’re the one preaching not to judge, then judging the victim in the next sentence.

      “clearly you don’t know the basics of religion”

      More judgement, from one who preaches not to judge.

      “Forgiveness, not persecution.” … For all? How active is your campaign to free all sex offenders and do away with the sex offender registry? Or are you only concerned with forgiveness for pedophile priests?

    • nepawoods

      “Would Barabbas have been your choice too?”

      Did Jesus Christ ever molest a child, then pretend it never happened? I think the answer is ‘no’.

      What crime did Barabbas commit? Anything as bad as child molestation? Again, I think the answer is ‘no’.

      • Find something better to do with your time

        Finally it all makes sense! You know nothing about the Catholic faith. Barabbas was in prison for murder, so yes it is worse than child molestation, although that is not what occurred here. Father Phil was charged with indecent assault and corruption of a minor. Seek counseling for the issues you clearly have with this situation, and refrain from commenting further. It only adds to the idiocy of it all.

      • nepawoods

        “You know nothing about the Catholic faith. Barabbas was in prison for murder,”

        The Catholic Catechism (you’ve heard of it?) mentions Barabbas exactly once, thus:

        “The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition.”

        usccb.Org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm?p=15-chapter5.xhtml%23para596

        Sedition is not murder, and murder is not “in the same category” as “political revolt”, which Jesus was accused of.

        And that’s official Church teaching. Argue with the Church if you disagree.

        But even if you had won your dumb little game of I’m-a-better-Catholic, it wouldn’t have given you the right, or made you any less the hypocrite for passing baseless judgement on the victim immediately after preaching not to judge. And hypocrisy, if you don’t know, is what Jesus was condemning when he spoke of taking the beam from your own eye. It’s a wonderful saying, because it has two meanings: One – the hypocrisy of wanting to fix a minor thing in your neighbor when you have the same problem so much larger yourself, and Two – the beam in your eye clouds your vision. You, and others doing it, don’t even see how offensively you’re judging the victim, do you?

      • Find something better to do with your time

        Your comments are seriously laughable! But, it’s been good entertainment nonetheless. I will sleep soundly tonight, and every night, knowing that I pass no judgment, and will be accountable only to God when this life is finished. You clearly have no beliefs in anything, as you don’t respect anyone’s opinion other than your own. You will be judged on that! Repent, while there is still time! And may God bless you, as He has always blessed me.

      • nepawoods

        “Your comments are seriously laughable! But, it’s been good entertainment nonetheless.”

        So you find this has entertainment value? I’m sorry, but it’s no laughing matter.

        I’m showing you exactly what the official Church teaching is regarding what Barabbas was accused of, from which you concluded I know nothing about the Catholic faith. The Catechism’s teaching on Catholic faith trumps your personal version.

        And again you say “I pass no judgment” followed by “You clearly have no beliefs in anything”. That’s a judgement! You still don’t see it? Are you truly that blind?

        “You will be judged on that!”

        Pretending to know what others will be judged on IS JUDGEMENT!

      • nepawoods

        Also, you write “you don’t respect anyone’s opinion other than your own”.

        Are these statements by you indicative of your respect for others opinions?

        “Clearly, all of you that rant and rave about this have nothing better to do with your lives.”

        “Seek counseling for the issues you clearly have with this situation, and refrain from commenting further. It only adds to the idiocy of it all.”

        “Your comments are seriously laughable!”

        Is it sinking in yet?

  • nepawoods

    Agreed: “you don’t even use your name, but want to force your opinions down everyone elses’ throats”

    Is ‘Agreed’ your name? And how am I forcing anything down anyone’s throat?

    Face it, if he were not a priest, you all wouldn’t be preaching forgiveness. There are news items every week about sex crimes against children, and we never hear anyone preaching forgiveness, but he’s a priest, so lets blame the victim. You folks give Catholicism a bad name.

  • April

    I’m assuming that everyone posting comments regarding this are practicing Catholics? If so, read your Bible. Judge not lest ye be judged is one of the basics of Religion. I am fairly certain that we have all made poor decisions at one point or another, especially under the influence of alcohol. It is upsetting that it involved such a young girl, but I have to question what she was doing in that situation in the first place. Why would her parents allow her to hang out in a rectory after a mass? And if she was so traumatized, it really took 16 years to realize that?! Wow, if someone had touched my feet at 13, I would’ve kicked him/her in the face, and been done with it.

    • Seriously?

      Not judging anyone. Let’s be clear. I would NEVER allow my daughter to be in that situation. Yes, altar servers assist after Mass, but NOT in the rectory. Clearly, you are one of the Catholics I spoke of.

    • Agreed

      nepawoods, it is really astonishing that you could rant about all of these comments so passionately. you don’t even use your name, but want to force your opinions down everyone elses’ throats. seek God, and forgiveness, for your own un-Christian beliefs.

      • April

        I’m not passing judgment, as you seem to believe I am doing. I am saying, as Christians, none of us should being doing it. Nor did I blame the victim. I simply said that parents should be more responsible for their children.

    • nepawoods

      April, “you are one of the Catholics I spoke of” is clearly a judgement. So is your whole questioning the victim and her parents.

      Why not save the forgiveness and “judge not” speech for when some derelict molests a little girl? Doing it only for a priest comes off as more than a bit disingenuous.

      • April

        Not once did I ever assign blame to anyone. It is clearly the fault, only, of Father Phil. But, I will not judge him, nor anyone else. In reference to my comment about Christians, it was not judging them, just stating that in my experiences, they tend to pass judgment more than non believers. I, however, will leave that responsibily to God, Himself. I question the parents, as I would not allow my daughter to be out after midnight mass with a priest or any other adult.

    • Rodger fox

      While your not blaming thee victim directly, you do seem to be saying we should forgive the predator in this situation, honestly, if he wasn’t in the employ of the church would you want him running around to pray on others? being a part of the clergy doesn’t make you more forgivable, in fact it should be grounds for excommunication or what have you because you used your position to gain access to the innocent to corrupt. If there is a god then this man was not acting in his name, he was acting in favor of Lucifer.

  • Bishop Ramzi Musallam

    Shame on him for what he did. I never had respect for him. He loves to slan.He loves to slander other people but there is a God. We will pray for the victim and we will pray for such evil people. Shame on you. The Catholic Church now is blessed to have him out. May Christ save His Church.

  • Jules and Joan Dobitsch

    We know Phil and fell very bad about the whole thing. No mater what , ” “God has forgiven him ” He is a. Good man. Let the one with out sin cast the first stone. God help the young girl to recover …Everything happens for a reason and we will miss Father Phil and always remember him and all the good he has. Done. We love you.

  • is it really news?

    Another priest in a sex scandal. Shocker! Its unnatural to expect mere men to ignore one of natures most basic instincts, procreation. Come on Catholics get with the program already.

  • Richard Liebert

    I was amazed at the Talkback comments aired recently which criticized the victim, essentially blaming the girl for the priest’s behavior and questioning why it took so long for everything to come out. Children often feel responsible for this type of assault especially if they knew the perpetrator. Children often repress this kind of memory or find it difficult to find someone whom they trust enough to tell. Imagine how hard it would be for a child to find someone more trustworthy than their own priest? Shame on anybody who casts any blame on the victim.

  • joe schmoe

    Whats amazing is that people still go to these churches and listen to and take advice from these people. I’m not saying all religion or church is bad, I am saying that the catholic church is a disgrace! I would never let my family in one of their churches.

    • ashley gred

      These people who defend these priests are a disgrace. How many priests in the diocese have left or been removed for this. It is appalling and a sickening that people would defend this priest or any of the many priests who have accused of this.

  • Billl D

    There is something seriously wrong with anyone who would doubt a victim of sexual abuse! Especially if it involves a priest! The only thing that shocks me here is that it was a female for a change! Yeah that’s right, I said it! You people need to wake the hell up and realize that we have more and more sicko’s out there every week and the victims need your support! What is wrong with people who question the victim and not the abuser? It doesn’t matter why she waited to come forward. She probably was afraid and torn about telling anyone. These people in a position of power thrive because people, particularly children, keep the abuse to themselves for years, sometimes forever! How dare you accuse the victim here? How dare you question her motives rather than his? Wake up! Put your children, everyone;s children ahead of all else, ahead of your money, of your job, of your doubts, and most of all ahead of your church or religion! Wake up and deal with the truth! Where is your God now?

  • Sue Wilde

    In reference to another Priest being charged with sexual assault, not a surprise, the bigger surprise is the comments on talk back picking on the victim ,does it really matter the time frame of reporting, how do you know what you would do.. bottom line is IF he did it & he’s guilty.. he than did the wrong thing, back off on the victims it could happen to anyone.. Unfortunately there are very few people you can trust your loved ones with…no matter what there role is in the community.. doesn’t guarantee there a good trustworthy person.

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