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  Priest's Molest Case Finally Going to Trial

By Tom Gibb
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
February 1, 1994

The legal wrestling has gone on for 6 1/2 years, producing cartons of legal papers, court petitions and counterpetitions.

Yesterday, a Blair County court began choosing a jury to hear civil charges that former Altoona priest Francis E. Luddy Jr. molested his godson, a young parishioner, for six years, starting when the boy was 11.

It was an experience that the plaintiff's attorney, Richard Serbin, said turned the victim, now 27, into a homosexual prostitute, left him with drug and alcohol problems and pushed him into prison and a stay in a mental hospital.

The victim is seeking damages from Luddy, the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, retired Bishop James Hogan and Luddy's parish, St. Therese Church in Altoona. He says the latter three defendants failed to curb Luddy after church officials suspected pedophilia.

"This case is very important," Blair County Judge Hiram Carpenter told about 250 prospective jurors packed into the courtroom yesterday.

The lengthy pretrial jousting included bitter arguments over the merits of the case, whether Serbin deserved access to church archives to review Luddy's personnel record and whether court records should be sealed.

Serbin, rebuffed on attempts to open records, complained two years ago that the church "has the court's ear."

In a 1988 deposition, Hogan called the matter "the most painful allegation I've ever had in my priesthood."

The case has now evolved into what county Court Administrator Michael Reighard believes will be the largest civil trial in Blair County history, with 1,300 potential jurors summoned and two months set aside for the trial.

"If this case took twice the time, we would be well justified," Carpenter said.

The plaintiff claims Luddy molested him repeatedly while the priest was assigned to St. Therese. He claims Luddy molested him first in a car and that the attacks continued -- in Luddy's rectory room and in a local motel, among other places -- until 1984.

Luddy, now living at Fountain House, a church rehabilitation center in Jemez Springs, N.M., responded in papers filed last year that he did not abuse the boy and never saw him after 1980.

In addition to the claims made by Serbin's client, one of the man's brothers made a similar legal claim against Luddy, saying that he had been molested at St. Mary Church in Windber, Somerset County. The brother dropped his lawsuit early last year, saying he had just graduated from college and wanted to put the matter in the past.

The victim in the current case was not in court yesterday.

While Carpenter is predicting a long trial, he also is promising his own brand of decorum, demanding that spectators wear badges, that courtroom artists not sketch jurors and that spectators keep quiet. The penalty, he said, could be up to $ 500 and six months in jail.

 
 

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