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  5 Men Sue Diocese, Claim Molestations

By Tom Gibb
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
February 7, 2003

Nine years ago, the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was dumbfounded by allegations tumbling out of an 11-week clergy molestation trial.

There was testimony of priests-turned-predators, church officials who ignored warnings of wrongdoing and diocesan leaders who shuffled suspected offenders among parishes in an administrative shell game.

In the end, there was the plaintiff — emotionally crippled by a pedophile priest, he said — holding an award that has paid $1.2 million so far and, depending on a pending appeals court decision, could be worth another $1 million.

Yesterday, trauma started anew.

Five middle-aged men filed lawsuits against the diocese in Blair County Common Pleas Court, claiming molestation by two parish priests two and three decades ago.

At the heart of their accusations are claims of sexual imbroglios by still more priests — a pattern that shows a cover-up by the diocese, its current bishop and the bishop he replaced in 1987, according to the lawsuit.

"You have someone who's molesting children, that's one thing," said Richard Serbin, the Altoona attorney who filed the lawsuits. "But you have somebody else who knows they're molesting children and fails to do anything."

Because of the statute of limitations, the two priests are not named as defendants. Instead, the lawsuit focuses on the diocese, Bishop Joseph Adamec and retired Bishop James Hogan, the man Adamec replaced, saying they carried on a cover-up over the years.

One priest named as a molester is the Rev. Francis Luddy, the former Altoona clergyman who was sued nine years ago, admitted his pedophilia and was forced out of the priesthood four years ago.

The other is Msgr. Francis McCaa, former parish priest at Holy Name Church in Ebensburg, Cambria County, forced from his post in 1985, "now barred from public ministry," a diocesan spokeswoman said, and listed as retired and living in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The episodes — the first in 1976, the last in 1985 — ranged from sex in Luddy's Altoona rectory to fondling by McCaa, who asked one altar boy in his early teens "to sit on his lap during confession," according to the lawsuit.

"We were children when this happened," said a 38-year-old Altoona man, who said he was molested at Luddy's St. Therese Church 25 years ago. "We felt we did something wrong."

The announcement came in Serbin's office, with three of the five plaintiffs and the leader of a national advocacy group for victims of clergy molestation there with him.

Two of the plaintiffs are not identified in the lawsuit. The others — not named here because Pittsburgh Post-Gazette policy is not to identify possible sexual abuse victims — are from Altoona, Ebensburg and Beltzhoover in Pittsburgh.

"It's been literal hell for me, the past 20-some years," said the Ebensburg man, 34, a former altar boy for McCaa.

The Altoona man, once Luddy's altar boy, said the episode left him with bottled-up anger that helped destroy two marriages, the most recent of which "caused me to lose a wife I loved dearly, and my children."

Neither Luddy nor McCaa could be located for comment.

Beyond saying that the lawsuits were "based on claims that allegedly occurred approximately 20 or more years ago," the diocese refused in a statement yesterday afternoon to comment on the allegations until it had reviewed the 106 pages of legal filings.

"We want to say how deeply sorry we are for the pain of any victims of sexual abuse," said the statement, released by diocesan spokeswoman Sister Mary Parks.

Apart from the allegations against Luddy and McCaa, accusations surfaced against nine other priests between 1972 and 1994, the lawsuit says.

In one case, then-Bishop Hogan admitted telling a parish priest to "keep your big mouth shut" about abuse allegations against him, then allowed him his own parish. In another episode, Hogan learned of a priest, a principal at Altoona's Bishop Guilfoyle High School, being found naked in a car with a youngster — and then "getting nothing more than a scolding," the lawsuits say.

In a case that went before Adamec, one priest admitted sexual contact with children but was allowed to stay with the diocese until he agreed to retire the next year, according to the lawsuits.

"I can lay out a lot more," Serbin said.

 
 

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