Justices review priest abuse lawsuit’s ruling on time limits

Associated Press

October 20, 2020

By Mark Scolforo

Pennsylvania’s highest court on Tuesday grappled with whether a woman’s lawsuit on claims of sexual abuse by a priest decades ago should be allowed to proceed — a lower-court ruling that has launched many other lawsuits since it was issued a year ago.

In oral argument, the justices focused questions on whether the plaintiff, Renee Rice, waited too long to sue the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Rice has argued that a 2016 grand jury report alerted her to allegations that church officials’ silence about a priest who she says molested her amounted to fraudulent concealment.

The 2016 report in Altoona-Johnstown preceded the wider 2018 report that found decades of sexual attacks on children by priest in other Pennsylvania dioceses.

Eric Anderson, lawyer for the diocese and two now-deceased bishops, but not the Rev. Charles F. Bodziak, the priest Rice says abused her, told the justices that Rice had a duty to pursue the matter once she realized she had been harmed, was aware of who did it and knew where he worked.

“Once she knows those salient elements or facts, then she has to make the effort to conduct the investigation,” and possibly sue, Anderson argued. “Then she can explore all claims she has against potential defendants. And there’s no evidence she did anything like that.”

Rice’s lawyer, Alan Perer, said there is disagreement about what Rice knew and whether she responded properly, a dispute that he argued a jury should sort out.

“She alleges she did not know and it was not reasonably knowable that the diocese was the cause of her injury until she read the 2016 report,” Perer said.

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