Lawsuit against Diocese Weighed
By Kay Stephens
May 19, 2017
A Blair County judge is being asked to examine the validity of fraud, constructive fraud and conspiracy allegations in one of two civil lawsuits filed last year on behalf of a pair of sisters who said they were sexually molested by an Altoona priest between 1975 and 1981.
In courtroom arguments Thursday, an attorney on behalf of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese and two related defendants advised Judge Jolene G. Kopriva that arguments on behalf of Renee Rice provide no valid legal basis for the civil case to move forward.
It was the diocese, said Pittsburgh attorney Eric N. Anderson, that sent Rice a letter in July 2006, acknowledging her allegations and suggesting she take part in additional review.
“The diocese asked her to come to them … so how can she project any fraud?” Anderson asked.
But why did the diocese make that request, Altoona attorney Richard Serbin asked in court, pointing out that Rice had already provided details to a diocesan investigator.
What Rice didn’t know when she received Bishop Joseph Adamec’s letter, Serbin said, was that Adamec knew of two additional allegations of molestation against the Rev. Charles Bodziak.
They came to light, Serbin said, with the March 2016 release of a grand jury report revealing four decades of sexual abuse allegations against 50 priests within the eight-county diocese.
And it was the diocese, Serbin added, which allowed Bodziak to remain a priest through January 2016 despite a longtime awareness of the allegations.
Attorney R. Thomas Forr, who is representing Bodziak, told Kopriva that Bodziak was never called before the grand jury.
After Serbin filed the lawsuits in June 2016 on behalf of Rice and her sister, Cheryl Haun, Bodziak denied the allegations, a position he reiterated after Thursday’s court hearing.
“I look at myself as a priest victim,” he said. “I’m innocent. I never did anything.”
Rice said it was “hard” for her to hear of Bodziak calling himself a victim.
“I don’t get that,” she said.
Rice and her sister, in their lawsuits, said Bodziak began molesting them when they were 7 and 9 years old. At the time, Bodziak was a priest at St. Leo’s Church in Altoona and based on Rice’s lawsuit, he told the young girl that what he was doing was OK because he was a priest.
Those kind of claims may support an action against Bodziak but not the diocese, Anderson told Kopriva.
Serbin disagreed and said it was the diocese, during those 40 years addressed in the grand jury report, which kept an archive on pedophile priests at the same time it was teaching Catholic children to respect their priests.
“There was a duty to inform parents not just about Father Bodziak but the 49 others too … so parents could decide if they wanted to send children to places where they would be around priests with a sexual interest in children, Serbin said.
Kopriva did not indicate a time frame for when she will issue a ruling.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.