Judge tosses clergy sex abuse lawsuit in Blair County, citing limitations statute
By Stephen Huba
December 18, 2017
The attorney for a Blair County woman who sued a Catholic priest is considering an appeal now that a judge has thrown out the lawsuit.
Blair County Common Pleas Judge Jolene Kopriva, whose term expires at the end of the year, said Renee Rice's civil suit was filed after the statute of limitations had expired.
“I intend to review with my client her right to appeal Judge Kopriva's opinion,” Altoona attorney Richard Serbin said in a statement.
Rice and her sister, Cheryl Haun, sued the Rev. Charles Bodziak last year over allegations that he fondled them in the 1970s, when they were ages 7 and 9. At the time, he was serving at St. Leo's Catholic Church in Altoona.
The sisters also sued the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which was the subject of an investigation by the Pennsylvania attorney general over allegations of clergy sexual abuse spanning decades. A special grand jury released a 147-page report in March 2016 detailing the alleged abuse of hundreds of minors by more than 50 priests in the eight-county diocese.
The lawsuit alleged counts of fraud, constructive fraud and conspiracy against retired Bishop Joseph Adamec and the estate of Bishop James Hogan.
“At times we reach that point in the law, owing either to binding precedent or statutory authority, where a wrong may regrettably have no redress,” Kopriva said in the opinion. “The appellate courts or legislature retain the power to alter that situation if they so choose.”
Bodziak, 76, is one of seven priests listed by the diocese as being on leave from public ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. He was placed on leave in January 2016 while he was pastor at St. Michael's Catholic Church in St. Michael, Cambria County.
The grand jury report noted one allegation against Bodziak, made in 2003, pertaining to an incident dating back to 1971. Reese's allegation against Bodziak was first made in 2006, according to news reports.
Bodziak has maintained his innocence.
“I am disappointed in the court's ruling that concludes the statute of limitations prevents Renee from having her day in court,” Serbin said. “My client and other survivors of sexual abuse who come forward deserve the public's gratitude for their courage and determination in helping to expose these heinous crimes against children.”
Serbin said the state Legislature must be persuaded to change the law on civil claims.
A 2016 bill that would have extended the statute for civil claims from age 30 to age 50 passed in the House but died in the Senate.
In March, Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark L. Bartchak issued a comprehensive child sexual abuse policy after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.