June 26, 2019
By Dave Sutor
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown has challenged the ruling in a case that – if upheld – could significantly expand the ability of alleged childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse to file civil claims against the church.
In December 2017, Blair County Judge Jolene Kopriva dismissed a case brought by Renée Rice against the diocese, then-retired (now deceased) Bishop Joseph Adamec, the estate of deceased Bishop James Hogan and the Rev. Charles Bodziak because the abuse she alleged Bodziak committed, from 1975 or 1976 through 1981 when they were both at St. Leo’s Church in Altoona, was past the commonwealth’s statute of limitations.
A three-judge Superior Court of Pennsylvania panel overturned the decision earlier this month, stating that if a jury finds a confidential relationship existed that resulted in fraudulent concealment of information, then defendants cannot gain rulings in their favor based upon the statute of limitations expiring.
Rice’s attorney in the original hearing, Richard Serbin, argued that his client could not have known the full level of the diocese’s alleged effort to protect predator priests until the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General released a grand jury report that provided details about the alleged decades-long coverup.
He believed the conspiracy lasted until Bodziak was placed on leave in January 2016 or maybe even until the grand jury report was issued in March 2016.
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