Bishop Peter A. Libasci Was Set Up by Governor Andrew Cuomo
Aug 25 Written By Fr. Gordon J. MacRae
Before he was himself accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a window in the civil statute of limitations spawning claims against a Catholic bishop.
Back in 2010, I closely followed a story that appeared in most national news media outlets. It was about Bishop Eddie Long, a well-known preacher, TV evangelist, and pastor of a Baptist mega church in Georgia. He was accused of sexual assault in multiple lawsuits brought by three young adult males.
Unlike in nearly all similar claims against Catholic clergy, all three of the men, barely out of their teens, opted to allow their names to appear in media coverage. The story unfolded in stark contrast with similar claims against Catholic priests in other ways as well. Lawyers and victim advocates have explained away the sometimes decades-long gaps that have comprised 70-percent of the claims against priests. It is routinely claimed that accusers of Catholic clergy — the vast majority of whom were teens at the time of an alleged offense — may require decades to come forward due to the trauma inflicted on them. In contrast, the three young men accusing Bishop Eddie Long filed lawsuits within two years.
Bishop Long denied that the claims were true. Criminal charges were never filed so the claims were not investigated. The story came down to his word against theirs. When The Wall Street Journal published a 2010 account of Bishop Long’s vow to fight these claims, it was among the five most-read stories of that week at WSJ.com. Clearly, many in the news media presumed at first reading of the headlines that he was a Catholic bishop. The decision to fight the claims rather than simply settle thus stood out as a news story of its own.
In the end, however, Bishop Long and his parish decided to settle the claims for an undisclosed sum in 2010. No one questioned their assertion that settlement of such claims is common and in no way should be seen as an admission of guilt or culpability. Beyond Bishop Long’s parish, there were no deeper pockets to pursue. He simply resumed his ministry as though nothing had ever happened.
This could never happen when the accused is a Catholic priest. It was once explained to me by another bishop, Most Rev. John B. McCormack, formerly Bishop of Manchester, NH, that one of the hard lessons of the Catholic clergy abuse narrative is the fact that once a priest is accused, his legal interests and those of his bishop and diocese diverge. When I maintained my innocence against lawsuits that I knew were fraudulent, I was dropped as a defendant so I no longer had standing to challenge settlements.
The New Hampshire statute of limitations for lawsuits was six years then. (In 2020 the civil limitation statute was removed entirely.) The allegations against me were from twelve years earlier. My defense against the claims was that they never took place. The sole argument of my diocese was that the statute had expired so the lawsuits should be time barred. Judge Carol Ann Conboy ruled in Merrimack County Superior Court that the six-year statute begins to toll “only when a victim becomes aware” of a connection between a claim of abuse and a current injury.
My diocese opted to settle rather than appeal that dubious lower court precedent which has since evolved into a pattern of unquestioned mediated settlements in other claims against priests going all the way back to 1950. In many cases no lawsuit was even filed. In his once published resume, former Msgr. Edward J. Arsenault (now Edward J. Bolognini) claimed that he personally negotiated 250 settlements in allegations against NH priests.
Of interest, one NH lawyer told the news media that he personally obtained 250 settlements in claims against NH priests. In a 2002 media report he added,
“During settlement negotiations, diocesan officials did not press for details such as dates and allegations for every claim. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ [Attorney Peter] Hutchins said.”
— Mark Hayward, NH Diocese Will Pay $5 Million to 62 Victims, NH Union Leader, November 27, 2002
Manchester Bishop Peter A. Libasci
Misuse of the word, “credible” has been a source of injustice in the U.S. Church since 2002. Prior to the events described above, Bishop John McCormack told a lawyer and a media producer that he believed I was falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned. His statements were documented in a pair of independently sworn affidavits in 2001.
In 2002, after the USCCB adopted the Dallas Charter and “zero tolerance,” claims against me entered a category used by all bishops since. Once money changed hands, they became “credible.” I wrote of the fallout in “Our Tabloid Frenzy About Fallen Priests.”
What the bishops collectively mean by “credible” is not a standard of justice used in any other circumstance. It means no more than “possible.” If a priest and an accuser lived in the same parish or community 30, 40, 50 years ago, then a sexual abuse claim against the priest is “credible.” It is deeply unjust that bishops continue to use that term while knowing that the public and the news media wrongly interpret it as “substantiated.”
There has been a point of contention with my current Ordinary, Bishop Peter A. Libasci. In 2019, while under no pressure from anyone to do so, he published the names of 73 priests of this one diocese who, he says, were “credibly” accused. Many are deceased. This resulted in a pair of pointed articles by Ryan A. MacDonald: “In the Diocese of Manchester, Transparency and a Hit List,” and “Our Bishops Have Inflicted Grave Harm on the Priesthood.”
Now Bishop Libasci has himself been “credibly accused.” On July 22, 2021, the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, in an article by Mark Hayward, reported, “NH Bishop accused of sexual abuse by an altar boy decades ago.” Whatever differences I have had with Bishop Peter Libasci and his published list, I was and am deeply saddened by this development. The accusation stems from 1983, the same year as the accusations against me. The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk County, New York, alleges that then Father Peter Libasci sexually assaulted a boy aged 12 to 13 “on numerous occasions” at a parish and Catholic school in Deer Park in the Diocese of Rockville Center, New York.
Bishop Libasci maintains through counsel that he is entirely innocent of these claims. I believe that he is in fact innocent. I do not find the claims to be credible at all, but I do not use that term in the same manner the bishops use it against priests. I will get back to this.
One of the claims from the now unnamed 50-year-old accuser is that he was assaulted in the sacristy while setting up for a Mass. That has all the earmarks of a “copycat” claim that is almost verbatim a claim in a different but much more notorious New York case, that of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. No one who knows Bishop Libasci could or should conclude that these claims are at all credible. It would be a grave injustice if such claims prevail without clear evidence.
However, that also leaves the matter in a conundrum. If that accuser lived in Deer Park, New York and attended that parish or school at the time Bishop Libasci was there, then this is more than enough for his fellow bishops to conclude — as they would in the case of any similarly accused priest — that the claims are “credible.” Bishop Libasci has not, at this writing, been removed from ministry by the Vatican. As unjust as that would be, any priest in the same circumstance would have been removed immediately.
Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
This is happening to Bishop Libasci and others with roots in the State of New York because in 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo promoted and ultimately signed a bill that opened a window to allow civil claims to be filed even if they had been time barred by the statute of limitations. The window in which these claims could be filed expired on August 14, 2021. The Catholic bishops of the state of New York knew well what the result would be so they opposed the unjust bill.
Before signing it into law, Governor Cuomo accused the bishops and other Church officials of threatening politicians who did not support their opposition to the bill. In response to similar bills that were not passed in previous efforts, Cuomo said, “I believe it was the conservatives in the Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church, and this went on for years.” Catholic League President Bill Donohue pointed out in “Cuomo Had A Different Standard for Priests,” Catalyst, April 2021,
“When teachers’ unions oppose a bill, it is called lobbying. When bishops oppose a bill, it is called a threat. Cuomo’s double standard, and his animus against the Catholic Church, could not be more plain.”
— Dr. Bill Donohue
Governor Cuomo also promoted and signed a June 2020 bill that set a very low bar as a standard of evidence in claims of sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace. The New York Times reported that the legislation eliminates the state’s “severe or pervasive” standard. When signing the bill into law, Governor Cuomo said,
“The ongoing culture of sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and has held employees back for far too long. This critical measure finally ends the absurd legal standard for victims to prove sexual harassment in the workplace and makes it easier for those who have been subjected to this disgusting behavior to bring claims forward.”
— Governor Andrew Cuomo, June 2020
I once wrote a post entitled, “Be Wary of Crusaders! The Devil Sigmund Freud Knew Only Too Well.” It documented multiple stories of crusaders against sexual abuse who turned out to be guilty of the same sorts of offenses they were crusading against. It was the result of a combination of forces within the psyche in the form of two classic defense mechanisms described by the Father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. From recent news accounts of his resignation to avoid a pending impeachment, Governor Cuomo seems to have been a textbook case for this.
As accusation after accusation emerged against Cuomo, he insisted on a presumption of innocence and his due process rights. He responded to the allegations with, “You can allege something. It might be true or it might not be true. You may have misperceived. There may be other facts.” All true, but when it came to allegations against priests — whether in the present or in the distant past — innocence was never a possible conclusion. As Catholic League President Bill Donohue observed in the link above,
“Cuomo showed no respect for the due process rights [of priests]. He was happy to sign legislation that gave rapacious lawyers out to sue the Church all the leeway they wanted.”
— Dr. Bill Donohue, Catalyst, April 2021
This is the Pandora’s Box our bishops opened with their use of the term, “credible” as a standard of evidence for removing priests. The current claims against Bishop Peter Libasci arose only because Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in New York a bill that takes advantage of the lowest possible standard of evidence to score lucrative windfall settlements from the Catholic Church.
According to the standard our bishops have adopted, however, those claims are as “credible” as many of the claims against the priests on Bishop Libasci’s published list. I would like to believe that Bishop Libasci may now, in hindsight and humility, rethink his decision to publish that list. Injustice, however, is often a bell that cannot be unrung.
Nonetheless, absent compelling evidence — and so far there is none — I firmly believe Bishop Peter Libasci is entirely innocent. I hope and pray that his good name is restored and he is delivered from this injustice.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post. Please also pray for a just outcome for Bishop Peter Libasci, for Catholic priests falsely accused, and for legitimate victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Let us remember as we walk through this minefield that we are a Church.
You may also want to read these relevant posts:
In the Diocese of Manchester, Transparency and a Hit List by Ryan A. MacDonald
Our Bishops Have Inflicted Great Harm on the Priesthood by Ryan A. MacDonald
A Weapon of Mass Destruction: Catholic Priests Falsely Accused by Father Gordon J. MacRae, LinkedIn Pulse
Accused Priests Deserve Better by Catholic League President Bill Donohue (Catalyst, March 2020)
Bogus Charges Against Priests Abound by Father Michael Orsi, Ed.D., Ave Maria School of Law
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The BTSW TeamGovernor Andrew CuomoBishop Peter A. Libasciaccusations against Catholic priestsBishop Eddie LongJudge Carol Ann ConboyMsgr. Edward J. ArsenaultEdward J. BologniniDiocese of ManchesterBishop of Manchester NHCatholic League President Bill DonohueBishop John B. McCormackNH bishop accused of sexual abuseCardinal Theodore McCarrickFr Gordon J. MacRaeFr. Gordon J. MacRae
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Fr Stuart MacDonald 6 hours ago · 0 Likes
Bravo Father Gordon!! An outstanding analysis, as usual. Yes, Governor Cuomo is taken down by the very machinations he masterminded. Unfortunately, Bishop Libasci is the victim of episcopal machinations enacted for accused priests. He finds himself in the same position as the priests on his list — an accusation from decades ago that is truly unsubstantiated. Oh, but wait!! He’s now a bishop. A different set of rules applies. He is not immediately placed on so-called administrative leave, sent for residential psychological therapy, and publicly shamed. The hypocrisy boggles the mind. The answer is NOT to make sure the same standard applies to him as to priests, but to change the standard so that there is due process and justice for everyone, accuser (not mere scam artist) and accused ( priest or bishop).
After this experience, one wonders if Bishop Libasci has the humility to re-think the wisdom of publishing his list of accused priests. But, then again, you’re correct: you can’t unring the bell. But one can try to ring a louder bell!