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Former Parishioner Testifies Against Scranton Priest

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.

5 comments

  • ME

    Seriously? This happened 15 years ago and now she feels the need to press charges? I get what the priest did wasn’t right. Did he force the 6 glasses of wine down her throat??? I just think she smells a HUGE payday and is trying to cash in

    • E

      I know this is nepa and most people are backward idiots, but can you really be that incredibly stupid? Or do you have someone in your family that committed a sexual crime and posting your comments makes you feel better? No wonder this area has always been a slum.

    • nepawoods

      Better now than never. The guy is a danger to women.

      For those who missed the earlier reports, 1) they found a collection of photos that he personally took of other girls feet, stashed in a paper bag in the rectory, and 2) they found evidence on his computer of, and he admitted to, his fetish for imagery having to do with women being chloroformed, strangled and sexually assaulted.

  • Uncle Billy

    After I was confirmed, the priest used to give me wine every Sunday. It was just a sip and It didn’t taste all that good. The little piece of flat bread wasn’t that tasty either.

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