Jury Awards $ 1.5 Million to Priest's Accuser

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
April 22, 1994

A jury in Blair County Common Pleas Court awarded $ 1.57 million last night to a former Altoona man who said he was molested by his parish priest a decade ago.

The jury put the bulk of the burden on the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese and retired Bishop James Hogan, ordering them to pay $ 1.28 million. But it ordered suspended priest Francis Luddy, 52, the alleged molester, to pay $ 236,840.

The remaining $ 58,900 is to come from St. Therese Church, the Altoona parish where the six years of molestation allegedly began in 1978.

After three days of deliberation, the jury announced the verdict, splitting 10-2 on a series of questions concerning the award. In a civil suit, the jury doesn't have to be unanimous in its finding.

The 26-year-old plaintiff, his mother, father and 28-year-old half brother sat quietly as the award was read, then dissolved into tears before exploding into hugs as Judge Hiram Carpenter recessed the trial.

The Post-Gazette does not identify the victim in charges of sexual assaults.

The award was one of the largest ever handed down in a clergy molestation case in the United States. It was the largest civil award ever in Blair County.

"I'm going to get my life together and leave the bad memories behind me," said the plaintiff, who now lives in Akron, Ohio.

Lawyers for Luddy and the diocese left the courtroom right after the award was announced, and deputies blocked reporters from getting to them.

Hogan, 82, was not in the courtroom when the award was returned. He had retreated to a bathroom, suffering from what he called a "weak spell."

Hogan declined to comment later.

In a statement later, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese pointed out that from the beginning of the lawsuit, all of the defendants had denied all of the plaintiff's claims.

"Given the testimony presented in this case during these past three months, I am not pleased with the jury's verdict," Adamec said. "I will be seeking the advice of legal counsel in the next few days to determine whether or not to appeal this decision."

The plaintiff's lawsuit claimed that the molestation wrecked him emotionally, leading him into crime and incapacitating him so much that his IQ dropped 31 points in 13 years.

The last half of his life has been an odyssey through juvenile institutions, prisons and mental hospitals.

In 1987, while he was in Akron's Summit County Prison awaiting sentencing on robbery charges, the plaintiff said he experienced hallucinations that included Luddy urging him to kill himself. The plaintiff, then 19, was transferred to Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, where the molestation story trickled out.

"Father Luddy told me never to tell anyone about this," he testified. "I never told anyone. ... I didn't want anyone to think I was gay."

Daniel Davis, a psychologist who treated the plaintiff, said the molestation caused enough trauma to spark the hallucinations and prompt behavior ranging from drug use to prostitution. But defense attorneys countered that the plaintiff was simply telling the hallucination story as a way of shirking criminal charges.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin filed the lawsuit accusing Luddy of molestation and charging that officials in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese failed to curb the priest.


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