The upcoming criminal trial of a suspended priest in Lackawanna County will raise two issues regarding allegations of improper touching by the priest. The priest's attorney said that he would challenge the indictment based upon the statute of limitations for such crimes and that he would also contend that the acts as described by the alleged victim do not satisfy the statutory definition of indecent assault.
The incident in question was said to have occurred in 1998 at a Scranton parish when the accused priest allegedly invited the accuser and two other women to drink wine with him to celebrate Christmas. The victim testified during the preliminary hearing that the four consumed two bottles of wine and that the priest offered to give her a ride home. During the ride, the priest allegedly pulled over and began to rub the woman's legs and feet. She said that he put his hand on her thigh in a "massaging way." At that point, the witness said she voiced her disapproval and nothing further occurred.
Pennsylvania's criminal law defines indecent contact as the non-consensual touching of a sexual or intimate part of the body. The defense attorney argued that feet and legs do not satisfy this definition. The prosecutor responded by pointing to the priest's admission that he had a fetish for feet and pantyhose and that touched the girl for his own sexual gratification. The success of the statute of limitations defense will depend on whether the jury believes the victim's testimony that the priest's actions caused her humiliation and embarrassment that prevented her from reporting the incident sooner.
Being accused of inappropriate sexual conduct is one of the most damaging charges a person can face. Even if the sentence is relatively short, the mere fact of the allegation can cause permanent damage to a reputation. Any person facing such charges should make every effort to obtain competent representation to ensure that all relevant defenses are presented to the court.
Source: The Scranton Times-Tribune, "Suspended priest accused of inappropriately touching girl heads to trial," Rebekah Brown, May 28, 2014