"I'm Innocent" ; Blair County Judge Delays Ruling on Civil Complaint in Alleged Child Sexual Abuse Case
By Dave Sutor
May 18, 2017
Rev. Charles Bodziak and Renee Rice both sat inside a Blair County courtroom on Thursday, separated by only a few feet – decades after the priest allegedly sexually abused her when she was a young child.
But they were the key figures in a civil case brought by Rice against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown, retired Bishop Joseph Adamec, and the estate of deceased Bishop James Hogan.
Rice has accused the bishops and diocese of committing fraud, constructive fraud and conspiracy in an alleged coverup of abuse of Rice and another girl by the priest. Bodziak is also included in the conspiracy charge.
After a hearing on the merits of the civil case, both the priest and the woman who says he assaulted her talked to reporters.
“All I know, myself as a priest, (I'm) a victim because I'm innocent. I never did anything,” Bodziak said before his attorney, Thomas Foor, subtly guided him away from reporters.
When asked how it felt to learn her alleged abuser called himself a victim, Rice said, “It's hard. It's really hard.”
During the hearing, attorneys for the defendants argued the case should be dismissed, while Rice's lawyer, Richard Serbin, explained why he believes the matter should proceed. Judge Jolene Grubb Kopriva did not immediately rule on the matter, instead saying she will further examine the information and come back with a decision at a later date.
Eric Anderson, who represents all defendants except Bodziak, contends the case should be dropped since the statute of limitations has expired on any abuse he is accused of committing against Rice when serving at St. Leo’s in Altoona during the 1970s.
Serbin counter-argued that his client did not file a claim for abuse, but rather is pursuing action based on an alleged coverup perpetrated by the diocese.
He said Rice – and her sister, Cheryl Haun, who has filed a similar action against the same parties – did not learn the full scope of how the Altoona-Johnstown diocese allegedly protected child predators until the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General used its full investigative power, including the ability to view the diocese's “secret archives” and interview witnesses, and issued a grand jury report in 2016.
“Because of the fraud, we're contending this knowledge was not possible (for her to have),” Serbin said in court.
Anderson pointed out that Adamec sent a letter to Rice in 2006 and “invited her to come to the diocese to participate in the investigation the diocese was conducting” into her claim of abuse.
Serbin discussed the letter with reporters, saying, “It was written after Renee gave the information of her sexual abuse to the investigator for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, and Bishop Adamec – at the time of writing this letter, according to the complaint in the grand jury report – already had information about Fr. Bodziak having allegedly sexually abused a girl, a child, earlier in his career. And the complaint references a second complaint with the diocese it received before hearing from Renee.”
Serbin pointed out that Adamec reportedly never told Rice about having the other allegations against Bodziak. He described the former bishop's offer as, in his opinion, amounting to giving Rice an opportunity to travel to Pennsylvania from her home in Tennessee to retell the same information the investigator already knew.
Adamec served as local bishop from 1987 to 2011.