Diocese, Bodziak deny accusations

Sisters filed lawsuits contending abuse by church leaders

The Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese officials and the Rev. Charles Bodziak deny accusations made in civil lawsuits filed against them.

The diocese and Bodziak filed answers on Oct. 7 to lawsuits brought against them in June by sisters Renee Rice and Cheryl Haun.

“Defendant Bodziak … denies any sexual interest in children and denies he ever utilized his position to ‘groom’ or seek sexual gratification from any child, at any time,” Bodziak’s answer to the lawsuit states.

The complaint filed for Rice alleges abuse between 1975 and 1981 when she was between 8 and 14 years old. Haun’s complaint alleges she was abused between 1976 and 1977, when she was between 7 and 8 years old.

The defendants named in Rice and Haun’s lawsuits are Bodziak, the diocese, retired Bishop Joseph Adamec and Monsignor Michael Servinsky, executor of the estate of decease Bishop James Hogan, who was running the diocese during the women’s childhood.

The diocese’s answer to the complaints argues that the plaintiffs, Haun, 47, and Rice, 49, are barred by the statute of limitations from bringing a civil suit. In support of its position, the diocese states that the plaintiffs were adults during the time when sexual abuse allegations were litigated against the Rev. Francis Luddy. Bishop James Hogan and the diocese were defendants in that case for allegedly protecting Luddy. The lawsuit was widely publicized in Blair County, the diocese’s answer stated. “And yet (the plaintiff) did not initiate her cause of action until June 21, 2016,” the diocese stated.

However, the sisters’ attorney, Richard Serbin, filed a reply Wednesday that gives reasons for an exception to the statute of limitations — including new information from a statewide grand jury report released in March. The report revealed that the diocese had accumulated records of abuse allegations against dozens of priests, including Bodziak, who was named as a predator in the report because of allegations from other alleged victims. However, the priests continued working in the diocese.

Serbin argues the grand jury report provides information that the Hutchison v. Luddy case did not provide the women years ago.

“It was only after the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office was able to secure through the use of subpoenas the records of the diocese that the concealment, fraud and conspiracy (were) revealed,” the reply states in its denial that the Luddy case disclosed the widespread problem of pedophile priests.

“The grand jury report establishes the failure of diocesan defendants to fully and truthfully admit their knowledge of the problem of child sexual predators within the diocese, both in discovery and testimony during the Hutchison litigation,” the plaintiffs’ reply states.

And while the Diocese’s attorney on Wednesday declined to answer whether the diocese denies the grand jury report, Serbin said the diocese’s answer to his clients’ lawsuits clearly is tantamount to a rejection of the report.

“The complaint of my clients incorporates the grand jury findings. If you look at what’s admitted (by the diocese’s answer), nothing is admitted,” he said.

Asked whether the diocese denies the grand jury report, attorney Eric Anderson of the Meyer Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck law firm in Pittsburgh declined to answer. He said he won’t discuss facts that are being litigated.

Contacted by phone on Wednesday, Serbin responded to the diocese’s position.

“We are dealing with responsibility of church officials to protect children from sexual predators and their failure to accept responsibility,” Serbin said Wednesday.

The amended complaint filed by Serbin in June included a demand for a jury trial.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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