Two New Priest Abuse Lawsuits Filed in Altoona-Johnstown

Associated Press State & Local Wire
November 6, 2003

On the day before attorneys for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown were to ask a judge to dismiss nine priest-sex abuse lawsuits against it, the attorney behind those lawsuits filed two more.

Richard Serbin now has filed 11 lawsuits on behalf of 14 clients, none of which target the priests in question, but instead blame the diocese, current Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, or his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan, for failing to properly investigate alleged abuse dating to the 1950s.

On Friday, diocesan attorney Eric Anderson will ask Blair County Judge Hiram Carpenter to dismiss the lawsuits saying that they violate the church's First Amendment right of freedom against government encroachment.

"The state shouldn't interfere with church regulations and policies and practices," Anderson said Thursday.

Serbin contends the diocese essentially hid behind those policies and allowed priests known to have abused minors to continue in ministry, and failed to properly discipline them. Serbin argues that it's not unconstitutional to require the church to obey civil and criminal laws that govern child abuse cases.

Serbin's lawsuits acknowledge that the alleged abuses occurred beyond the statute of limitations, but says the lawsuits remain timely because the policies that he alleges kept priests from being properly disciplined continued at least until reforms spurred last year by the sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese.

One of the new lawsuits is filed on behalf of James Mychajlonka, who claims he was abused starting at age 13 by the Rev. John J. Boyle from 1958 to 1963. Those incidents allegedly occurred while Boyle was an assistant at St. Patrick Church in Johnstown, many of them in Boyle's bedroom at the church rectory.

The lawsuit contends Boyle then lived with Monsignor Thomas Madden who, at the time, was Vicar General - the second-highest ranking priest in the diocese.

The other lawsuit, filed on behalf of a John Doe plaintiff, alleges sexual abuse by the Rev. James Skupien, a Catholic high school principal who has since died.

Boyle, who is named in two of the other lawsuits, is retired and has been removed from public ministry, diocesan officials said. Madden, who has not been named in any other lawsuits, is also retired, according to diocesan spokeswoman Sister Mary Parks.

The Associated Press could not immediately locate a listed telephone number for Boyle or Madden.

Parks said the diocese was still reviewing the lawsuits filed Thursday.

"While we are unable to respond to today's civil suits, Bishop Joseph (Adamec) continues to offer his regrets and apologies over the fact that some clergy took advantage of minors under their spiritual care in a most inappropriate way," Parks said in a statement.

Adamec has pledged to continue to "seek healing" and to urge that abuse allegations against diocesan priests be reported to the church and proper authorities, she said.


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