Judge tosses lawsuits against priest

Kopriva says statute of limitations expired in suits alleging sexual molestation

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County judge has concluded that the statute of limitations has expired for a pair of civil lawsuits initiated last year by two women who accused a local priest of sexually molesting them when they were children.

In a ruling issued Friday, Judge Jolene G. Kopriva granted requests from the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese and the Rev. Charles Bodziak, a former priest at St. Leo’s Church in Altoona, for judgments that bring the cases to an end in county court.

“In summary, as there are no applicable exceptions to the two-year statue of limitations in this case, the plaintiff’s claims are barred as untimely,” the judge concluded.

Kopriva’s ruling is subject to appeal, but in her order, she makes it clear that her decision is reflective of two Superior Court rulings, both in 2005, involving similar allegations and arguments.

“At times we reach that point in law, owing either to binding precedent or statutory authority, where a wrong may regrettably have no redress,” the judge concluded. “The appellate courts or legislature retain the power to alter that situation if they so choose. …”

The Blair County civil lawsuits were initiated in June 2016 by Altoona attorney Richard Serbin on behalf of Renee Rice, then 48, and her sister, Cheryl Haun, then 47. Both women accused Bodziak of groping, fondling and kissing them when they were children in the 1970s and Bodziak was their priest.

Haun said the abuse started at her first communion party and continued when she went on school trips, where Bodziak told her that what he was doing was OK because he was a priest.

Rice, in her lawsuit, accused Bodziak of assaulting her in the rectory after summoning her from school, and when she practiced playing the organ

at church.

Bodziak, outside a court hearing in May, denied the allegations.

Serbin, at that hearing and in court documents, tried to counter the statue of limitations defensive argument by pointing to exceptions based on fraud and the discovery of new information. The sisters brought their lawsuits after a statewide grand jury report in March 2016 named Bodziak among a long list of church officials within the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese who had been accused of molesting children during a 40-year time frame.

Kopriva’s ruling offered no reliance on the grand jury report in deciding that the statute of limitations had passed.

“It was always known to the plaintiff that the causes of her alleged injury were the actions of defendant Bodziak and the diocese overseeing him,” the judge said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.