Two More Men Sue Altoona-Johnstown Diocese

Associated Press State & Local Wire
August 12, 2003

Two men sued the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic diocese alleging that they were sexually abused by priests years ago and that church officials knew about abuse allegations but did too little to curb abuse.

While six previous suits filed this year, involving nine alleged victims, claim abuse occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, the suits filed Tuesday by John T. Arndt, 49, and David T. Saveleski, 53, detail alleged abuse dating to the late 1950s.

"I continue to receive calls, some by people who are deciding to go forward, some anonymous," said Altoona attorney Richard Serbin, who represents all 11 men. "There are people who are hurting and very troubled by their victimization and don't know whether to take the step and come forward. It's not an easy thing to do."

Arndt, of Elmira, N.Y., and Saveleski, of Annapolis, Md., contacted Serbin after he began filing suits earlier this year.

Like the previous lawsuits, the latest lawsuits do not name the priests as defendants because the statute of limitations has expired. They instead name the diocese, current Bishop Joseph Adamec and his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan.

In a statement, Adamec said the diocese hadn't reviewed the latest complaints, but he disputed accusations that the defendants didn't handle alleged cases of abuse properly.

"The legal action alleges that some sort of conspiracy exists within this diocesan church that allows and even promotes inappropriate behavior on the part of its priests in regard to minors. I deny and know of no such conspiracy," Adamec said.

He said his and Hogan's decisions were made "upon the best available data and professional advice available," either in the past or now.

The lawsuits continue a series of legal challenges this year against the diocese, which is located about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. Together, the lawsuits represent the first such actions faced by the diocese since a 1987 case against a now-defrocked priest that resulted in a $1.2 million award.

In his lawsuit, Arndt alleges he was molested by Joseph Bender beginning in 1963 when he was about 10 years old and lasting until 1965. The alleged abuse occurred most often at a camp Bender had in Hyner Mountain, where he would often members of St. Joe's Little Choir, to which Arndt belonged.

Bender died in August 2000, according to the diocese.

Saveleski claims he was molested by John Boyle for about two years beginning in 1958 when he was about 10 or 11 years old.

Boyle, who was also identified as an alleged abuser in a previous suit, is listed as retired on the diocese's Web site with a post office box in Mill Hall. A number for a John Boyle in the surrounding area was non-published.

In his statement, Adamec urged past victims of abuse to contact the church and anyone who suspects a child is currently at risk to contact authorities.

Earlier this year, Adamec detailed how the diocese handled allegations against 13 priests named in recent lawsuits and news reports. Of those 13, one - the Rev. Francis Luddy, who was the subject of the 1987 lawsuit - was defrocked.

Arndt's suit is the first containing allegations against Bender.

Adamec said he removed two priests who had previously been suspended. In other cases, priests were cleared and others ordered to go to treatment. One remains on administrative leave pending a church investigation.

Adamec also noted that the church paid for therapy for four men who said they had been abused by priests.

In court documents, the diocese has attacked the lawsuits, saying they violate the constitutional separation of church and state and try to skirt the 2-year statute of limitations by alleging "clergy malpractice" and questioning how the diocese disciplined priests.


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