Msgr. Francis Giliberti – Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Msgr. Francis Giliberti

Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Fr. Francis Giliberti Horowitz Law

Ordained: 1970

Psychological evaluation: 2002

Retired (in good standing): 2003

Permanently restricted: 2004

Died: 2018

Assigned as follows:

  • 1970-1973 Our Lady of the Assumption (Strafford, PA)
  • 1971-1973 Archbishop Carroll Boys High School
  • 1973-1978 Cardinal O’Hara High School (Springfield, PA)
  • 1973 St. Patrick (Kennett Square, PA)
  • 1973-1987 Nativity B.V.M. (Media, PA)
  • 1978-1987 West Catholic Boys High School
  • 1987-1991 St. Barbara (Philadelphia, PA)
  • 1991-2003 Nativity B.V.M. (Media, PA)

Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father Giliberti:

The case of Msgr. Francis Giliberti – and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s handling of the allegations against him – was examined in great detail by the 2005 grand jury.

Giliberti was known to run a “sort of boot camp to stop masturbation” at his house on the Jersey Shore.  One of his “methods” involved walking in on boys as they masturbated. He convinced the boys that they were terrible sinners who could be subject to eternal damnation if they masturbated.  One victim told criminal investigators that Giliberti would “inspect” his penis to determine if it was “traumatized” by masturbation. Giliberti would order the boy to get an erection by masturbating in front of the priest – and Giliberti offered to perform oral sex on him if it would help – so that he could look at it.  One victim became so disgusted by his penis that he doused it in lighter fluid and set it on fire.

In April 2002, a 40 year old man reported to former Secretary for Clergy Msgr. William Lynn that he had been abused by Giliberti as a 15 year old sophomore at Cardinal O’Hara High School in 1977.  He reported graphic discussions about sex in his theology class, and that he thought he was going to hell because he masturbated. Fortunately for him, Giliberti assured the boys that he – their trusted priest – could help them.  When Jay asked for help, Giliberti told him to come by the rectory at Nativity B.V.M. to discuss his concerns. Once there, he directed the boy to remove his pants and obtain an erection. Giliberti told the child that he needed to see how traumatized the boy’s penis was.  The “inspection” included taking the boy’s penis his hand, stroking it, and giving the child alcohol. Other times, the priest made the boy masturbate in front of him to see the child’s technique, or he offered to perform oral sex on the boy.

The child wanted nothing more than to be perfect and pure for his ‘very ethical’ parents.  He was so ashamed that he could not stop masturbating despite the priest’s efforts, so he doused his penis with lighter fluid and set it on fire.  

Eventually, the boy grew into a man who attended St. Charles Borromeo seminary for two years.  He told two priests there what Giliberti had done – they told him to “let go” of it because it was his word against the Church’s.  Msgr. Lynn underscored their point by telling the victim he was the only person who ever accused Giliberti of wrongdoing.

When confronted, Giliberti denied sexually abusing the boy.  He remembered the child but said their relationship was limited to hearing one confession from him.  He said the child had several problems during that time period – one of which was masturbation – but the seal of the confessional prevented him from disclosing them to Lynn.  

No action was taken in response to the report.  Giliberti remained at Nativity B.V.M. – which also had a grammar school. One week after Lynn met with the man who set his own body on fire because of the priest’s manipulation, Cardinal Bevilacqua announced at a press conference: “I can assure all the people here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that there is no priest in any parish or any ministry whatsoever that was credibly accused of misconduct with a minor.”  

In September 2002, a 44 year old man contacted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to report that he was sexually abused by Giliberti in the mid-1970s when he attended Cardinal O’Hara High School.  Giliberti was his freshman theology teacher who convinced him that anyone who masturbated was headed for damnation. He came to the priest after school one day to express his fear about his soul’s future.  Giliberti assured the child he could help him stop masturbating and save himself from damnation. He mentioned a house on the Jersey Shore where he sometimes helped other boys struggling with the same issue.  The boy was too scared to go and did not take Giliberti up on his offer.

However, during his senior year, he went back to Giliberti because he had recently had an issue trying to have sex with his girlfriend.  The boy worried he might be gay because he had a hard time performing. Giliberti offered to introduce him to “half a dozen gay men in downtown Media if I thought I wanted to try it out.”  When the boy scoffed, Giliberti ordered him into the rectory bedroom to prove to “himself” that he could get an erection anytime. The boy acquiesced to the command and found himself naked on the priest’s bed.  When he struggled to obtain an erection as Giliberti watched, he was devastated. He never returned to church.

In October 2002, Giliberti was sent for a psychological examination, but the Archdiocese of Philadelphia opted to use a small consulting firm, rather than their usual team at St. John Vianney, a notorious treatment facility for pedophile priests that the Archdiocese also happened to own.  The Giliberti team concluded that there was no data to suggest that either of the allegations made about Giliberti could be true; they opined “there is no reason to conclude from the interview or the test data that Monsignor Giliberti is a threat to the physical or emotional health of those to whom he ministers.”  

Since neither victim had threatened to sue or go to the media, there was no threat of public scandal by leaving Giliberti in ministry.  Now, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia also had a self-serving “evaluation” that said the priest was safe to be around parishioners. He remained at his post as the unsupervised head of Nativity B.V.M. parish.

For reasons that are not entirely clear – perhaps because a secret grand jury had been convened – the Archdiocese of Philadelphia asked its internal review board to re-examine the two allegations against Giliberti, who was still in active ministry.  The review board concluded that both allegations were credible and substantiated. By that point, Giliberti had been “encouraged to retire,” so the findings and recommendations to the Cardinal simply meant that Giliberti would no longer have faculties to perform public ministry.  

In April 2004, a third man came forward to report that he was sexually abused by Giliberti while Giliberti was in seminary.  He also witnessed another boy being abused by Giliberti at the same time. The abuse occurred at a house on the Jersey Shore when Giliberti brought six boys for an overnight trip. He forced three of the boys to share a bed with him, and abused at least two of them during the night.  

In October 2004, the retired and aging Giliberti agreed to surrender his remaining faculties and live a “supervised life of prayer and penance” rather than go through a canonical trial to remove him from the priesthood (involuntary laicization).  When asked by the grand jury what was meant by “supervision,” retiring Cardinal Bevilacqua testified that he did not know. 

He resided at Villa St. Joseph with other accused priests who accepted the same “plea deal,” until he was moved to a specialized nursing home where he eventually died in April 2018.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Pennsylvania, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Philadelphia now have legal options to recover damages due to a compensation fund created for victims.  Contact us at (954) 641-2100 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com today.