SCRANTON — A Roman Catholic priest was in Lackawanna County court Tuesday on charges of indecent assault for allegedly fondling a teen some 15 years ago.
That accuser testified during a preliminary hearing.
A magistrate decided that the case against Father Philip Altavilla will now go to trial. Altavilla was arrested back in April when a former parishioner came forward saying that when she was 13, Altavilla molested her feet and legs because he has a foot fetish.
Father Philip Altavilla had his day in court only blocks away from the cathedral parish he presided over in downtown Scranton. Altavilla has been suspended of his priestly duties since he was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors.
Altavilla was most recently Rector at St. Peter’s Cathedral in downtown Scranton. Many of his current parishioners still support him.
Some came to court to see what his accuser had to say.
“I still think that, deep down in my heart, he will do good,” said St. Peter’s Cathedral altar server Bill Nolan.
The now 28-year-old alleged victim testified that her parents trusted Altavilla to take her home after midnight mass on Christmas eve 1998. She said she stayed with Altavilla and drank about 6 glasses of wine with him
and two other church officials at St. Patrick’s Church in Scranton.
The alleged victim said Altavilla then massaged her feet and legs on the way to drop her off at home.
The woman said on the stand, “I told him he was out of line and i went to get out of the car. He then apologized and said it was inappropriate.”
Prosecutors said the woman’s memory, though now 15 years old, is enough to convict and doesn’t violate the statute of limitations.
But, Altavilla’s attorney thinks it weakens their case.
“How do you defend yourself when there’s an accusation raised that something happened in 1998 and it’s now 2014. I mean, that’s why I have a problem,” attorney Paul Walker said.
Walker also wondered if touching the girl’s legs and feet is actually sexual contact. But, police said the priest admitted to having a foot fetish and that, prosecutors said, is also enough to convict.
“I believe that it does, I believe that the case-law supports that it does, and if you listen to the testimony even for him, he admitted that it does. His own admissions are going to be a very important part of this case,” Deputy D.A. Jennifer McCambridge said.
The alleged victim in this case testified Tuesday that two other church officials gave her alcohol that same night in 1998.
Prosecutors did not say if they plan to charge those people. They said for now, they are focusing on the case against Altavilla.
Father Altavilla is still suspended from the Diocese of Scranton.