Catholic Priest

Robert N. Caparelli

Ordained: 1964
Diocese: Diocese of Scranton

From Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

On May 23, 1964, Robert N. Caparelli was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest within the Diocese of Scranton.  Between September 1967 and October 1968, Caparelli served as an assistant pastor at the parish of Most Precious Blood in Hazelton.  On August 14, 1968, less than four years after Caparellis’ ministry began, a letter was sent to Bishop J. Carroll McCormick from a police officer in Hazleton.  The officer reported to the Bishop that Caparelli was contributing to the delinquency of two altar boys.  These boys were brothers and were 11 and 12 years old.   The police officer stated that Caparelli was “demoralizing them in a manner that is not natural for any human that has all his proper faculties.” The officer stated that the mother had made the complaint to him, but that he was reporting it to McCormick.  He explained that the mother of the victims was afraid to tell the boys’ father due to the possible “deadly nature” of the ensuing confrontation. The policeman closed his letter with an offer to meet with the Bishop or provide additional information, if needed. He noted that there were “other situations” as well. The officer commented that if the situations were not curbed, violence would take place.

Three days later, the head pastor of Most Precious Blood contacted McCormick. Father Mark Mecca had also reviewed the letter that the Bishop had received.  Regarding it, he wrote to McCormick:

“I have to say that it expresses the voice of many of my parishioners.  I referred this matter to you at Thanksgiving-tide of last year, when I told you that I would try to solve this problem, to relieve Your Excellency of at least one of the many problems. This problem is too big for me.  It has grown into something that is unbelievable. In other words all that this gentleman writes is true… but there is so much that is missing, and all very, very serious.”

Mecca went on to note that at least one fellow priest, Monsignor Mussari, simply did not wish to know the details. He noted that Monsignor James Timlin was aware of at least one area of concern due to his presence when Mecca broached the subject on a previous occasion.  Mecca closed his letter noting, “Your Excellency has definitely noticed that I am under an incubus . . . all on account of some of these things.”  The Grand Jury noted that “incubus” is a Latin term for “a male demon obsessed with the sexual” and can be a “nightmare known for causing oppression or burden.”

On August 19, 1968, another concerned parishioner wrote to McCormick.  While noting general concerns about Caparelli’s demeanor, the parishioner stated:

“We tolerated all this but it is now a known fact in Hazelton that he is demoralizing young boys especially those that serve as altar boys. Many parents have withdrawn them and are being retained not to report him to the juvenile division of the Police Dept.  We want to avert scandal.  This is the consensus that we would overlook all the former complaints but this last one, may present a tragic situation.”

On September 2, 1968, McCormick wrote a secret note that the Grand Jury obtained from the confidential Diocesan archives.  McCormick wrote that he had spoken with Caparelli who “admitted acting too freely with 2 altar boys.” Contrary to the reports about him, Caparelli insisted that he did not do anything immoral.  While Caparelli agreed that the Bishop had to take action against him, he begged to be assured that he would be able to continue working as a priest in the Diocese.

Caparelli was subsequently sent to the Padua Retreat House.   An internal Diocesan memorandum from October 1968 noted that based upon Caparelli’s version of events, “the mother, a nurse, may have exaggerated.”  Any child sexual abuse was dismissed as “immaturity” and a change was suggested.   McCormick ultimately assigned Caparelli to serve in the parish of St. Mary’s in Old Forge in October, 1968.  In 1981, Caparelli was appointed head pastor of St. Vincent’s in Milford.

In 1985, while Caparelli was still in active ministry as head pastor at St. Vincent’s, then- Bishop James Timlin dispatched a memorandum to all priests, religious and lay personnel of the Diocese of Scranton. The memorandum explained that the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Act required reporting to civil authorities both “actual and suspected cases of child abuse.”  The memorandum explained that a report must be made to the head priest of a parish or the superior of a given diocesan institution.  The Chancery noted that it stood ready to assist.  In spite of this mandate, Timlin permitted Caparelli’s continued ministry and no report was made regarding his conduct.

Within Caparelli’s personnel file, the Grand Jury found a letter from John M. Quinn, Esquire.  The letter, dated September 3, 1991 and marked received September 6, 1991, appeared to have been shared with the Diocese of Scranton through Bishop Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie.  The letter suggested a way to reorganize any diocese to minimize recovery by victims of child sexual abuse in the event that “a large judgement is rendered against the Bishop and the Diocese in a pedophile case.”  The Grand Jury noted that at that time scores of predatory priests were still in active ministry in the dioceses of Pennsylvania, and one of them was Caparelli. However, before the end of 1991, Caparelli was criminally charged for the sexual abuse of a child.

Following the filing of criminal charges against Caparelli, Timlin issued a statement on behalf of the Diocese of Scranton.  The statement announced the Diocese’s full cooperation with law enforcement and its own thorough investigation.  No comment regarding the Diocese’s pre- existing knowledge of Caparelli’s criminal conduct was made.

On December 17, 1991, Timlin personally took another complaint from a respected medical doctor and faithful catholic parishioner.  The doctor disclosed that he had been a victim of Caparelli’s when Caparelli had served at St. Mary’s. He reported that he was 11 or 12 years old when Caparelli “sexually molested” him. The doctor reported that there were “other boys involved as well.”

On December 23, 1991, a civil lawsuit was initiated against the Diocese for Caparelli’s criminal conduct.  The Diocese aggressively fought back for a period of years before ultimately settling the matter.  Timlin specifically took actions to protect the secret archives of the Diocese from legal discovery during the course of the litigation.  These actions were taken despite the fact that the plaintiff’s complaints were clearly consistent with diocesan knowledge that Caparelli had, in fact, molested the child. The lawsuit alleged that the child had been molested from September 1985 through June 1986 in the rectory of Saint Vincent DePaul.  Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that Caparelli forcibly sodomized the child.

Catholic parishioners were not pleased at having been endangered and kept uninformed by the Bishops of Scranton.  On January 9, 1992, one such parishioner, who attended St. Vincent’s, wrote to Timlin stating:

“Your misleading and deceptive tactics by sending a representative to the parish only was a further effort to circumvent the truth and cover up what possibly could be a true situation. To deal with parishioners in this matter as if they have no intelligence is perhaps more of a shock then what is presently facing us.  To be dealt with as fools by those we trusted speaks of nothing but further non concern by you and the Diocese of Scranton. The Parishioners “rights to know the truth” has been violated and a distrust of the church and its hierarchy prevails. Perhaps this is even a greater scandal than the immediate crisis facing St. Vincent’s parishioners.”

The letter bore a notation from Timlin, “Never got the first letter! Everything ok – now she understands.”

Another letter dated April 6, 1992 was found within the Diocesan records written by a retired captain of the Pennsylvania State Police.  He stated that in 1974, a high school friend told him that Caparelli was touching the genitals of his son and others.  In response, the captain met with the head pastor and Caparelli.  Caparelli was confronted with the complaint that he was molesting children and he admitted that it was true.

The captain informed the head pastor and Caparelli that no one wanted to press criminal charges but that Caparelli’s conduct had to change.  The head pastor assured him that he would take care of it. Caparelli was transferred within the year. Diocesan records showed that Caparelli was assigned as a chaplain at the Mercy Center in Dallas in 1974.  In 1981, he was transferred again to St. Vincent’s as head pastor.

On July 14, 1992, yet another complaint about Caparelli was received by Timlin. The letter advised that Caparelli had abused 10, 11, and 12-year-old boys as far back as 1967 at Most Precious Blood parish.  The writer indicated that he had knowledge of the abuse because he, his brother, and their friends were all victims.  The letter stated:

“There must have been other reported incidents of abuse in Caparelli’s career.  It is inconceivable to me that this man molested altar boys in 1967 and never transgressed until 1991 when he committed 32 counts of indecent exposure, indecent assault, and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with children.”

Over the years, many more victims came forward. Caparelli faced additional charges and ultimately pled guilty to offenses against children and received prison time. While in prison it was discovered that Caparelli had been HIV-positive for years.  In December, 1994, Caparelli died while incarcerated.

Timlin and the Diocese of Scranton never fully disclosed the decades of knowledge and inaction that left children in danger and in contact with Caparelli. Press accounts and some limited public statements provided a few details of the abuse while the Diocese largely relied upon excuses related to a claimed lack of understanding of the depth of Caparelli’s problem.  The Grand Jury noted that even when no doubt could be left regarding Caparelli’s guilt, the Diocese was determined to provide more aid to Caparelli than to his victims.  A stunning example of this was found in a letter from Timlin to Caparelli’s sentencing judge in October 1993 following Caparelli’s convictions for crimes against children. The letter carbon copied the President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, Senator Robert Mellow.  In it, Timlin requested that Caparelli be released from prison to a Catholic treatment facility – like those that had so often authorized the return of Pennsylvania’s predatory priests to active ministry – Saint Luke’s Institute in Maryland and the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico.

Additional information regarding the widespread sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania and the systemic cover up by senior church officials is compiled in the Pennsylvania Diocese Victim’s Report published by the Pennsylvania Attorney General following a two-year grand jury investigation.  A complete copy of the Report is available on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website.