June 23, 2019
A flood of abuse allegations and reports that religious leaders covered up the sexual crimes of clergy may have changed the legal landscape for victims pursuing justice years later – with the courts now providing an opportunity for justice where the Pennsylvania Legislature has not.
A ruling last week by a three-judge Superior Court panel opened the door for two women who had previously been halted by the state’s statute of limitations to move forward with a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
In 2016, Renee Rice and her sister, Cheryl Haun, filed a lawsuit in Blair County, claiming they were molested as young girls by a priest, Rev. Charles Bodziak, and – the key to the ruling – that the church conspired to cover up the crimes. The abuse was alleged to have occurred when Bodziak served at St. Leo’s in Altoona during the 1970s and ‘80s.
The sisters were in their late 40s when the suit was filed. In late 2017, Blair County Judge Jolene Kopriva ruled that their case could not proceed because they were past the statute limit, as Pennsylvania law gives victims until the age of 30 to file lawsuits.
Victims advocates and the state attorney general have been calling on the Pennsylvania Legislature to provide a opening for lawsuits involving child sexual abuse that had occurred years earlier.
Although a window bill passed the state House overwhelmingly last year, the state Senate has not been willing to take up the issue.
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