Sex Suit Hits Diocese

By Sandra K. Reabuck
The Tribune-Democrat [Altoona PA]
February 7, 2003

ALTOONA - The Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, already battling a $1 million award in a 1987 molestation case, was hit yesterday with more allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Five men who were altar boys are claiming they were abused by two priests on church property and filed lawsuits in Blair County Court seeking compensation for abuse and their emotional scars.

One plaintiff said he was molested in a confessional.

The diocese, along with Bishop Joseph Adamec and retired Bishop James J. Hogan were named as defendants.

But the two priests who allegedly abused the boys in the 1970s and 1980s were not named because of the expiration of the statute of limitations for filing a civil action, Richard Serbin, the men's attorney, said.

He and the plaintiffs appeared at a press conference as the suits were filed.

The priests were identified as Msgr. Francis McCaa, the former pastor of Holy Name Church in Ebensburg, and Francis Luddy, a former Altoona priest who was defrocked four years ago by Pope John Paul II.

Luddy, Hogan and the diocese were the defendants in the earlier lawsuit. In 1994 a Blair County jury awarded the $1 million in punitive damages and $519,000 in compensatory damages for the abuse.

The state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether the diocese will have to pay the $1 million punitive damages. Two years ago, the diocese paid the compensatory damages, which then totaled $1.2 million with interest and delay penalties.

McCaa, still listed as a retired priest on the diocesan rolls, reportedly is living in West Virginia. Luddy's last known residence was in New Mexico, where he had been sent to a rehabilitation center.

Three of the men - Brian J. Gergely, 33, of Ebensburg; Kevin Hoover, 30, of Pittsburgh; and a 38-year-old man identified only as John Doe I in the lawsuit - contend McCaa fondled them while they were altar boys at Holy Name between 1975 and '85.

In the other case, Jeffrey A. Lafferty, 38, of Altoona, and 36-year-old John Doe II; say they were sexually abused by Luddy at St. Theresa's Church and its parochial school between 1976 and 1978.

The diocese, in a prepared statement, said it is reviewing the lawsuits and is unable to respond to specific allegations.

Spokeswoman Sister Mary Parks said in the statement, "Obviously we want to say how deeply sorry we are for the pain of any victims of sexual abuse."

The allegations against Luddy and McCaa were based on alleged incidents dating back 20 years or more, Parks said.

The two lawsuits are the first ones that alleged improper conduct by any diocesan priest since the original 1987 case, she said.

Serbin, with Gergely, Hoover and Lafferty seated beside him, told reporters that the victims, in filing the lawsuits, "hope (to) expose the truth so that other innocent children will not suffer" abuse by other priests.

Diocesan officials for too long have hidden the abuse by the priests, the attorney said in a news conference at his office at 85 Logan Blvd.

In addition to McCaa and Luddy, Serbin said in the lawsuit that the diocese knew of allegations of sexual abuse by at least nine other "predator priests." Those allegations were hushed by the diocese, its contended.

They were identified as Joseph Gaborek, Dennis Coleman, William Kovach, James Skupien, Thomas Carroll, Leonard Inman, Joseph Bender, Robert Kelly and Bernard Gratten.

The diocese and the bishops have "exhibited an ongoing pattern of conduct involving secrecy and concealment of sexual involvement by diocesan priests," Serbin said.

"There are still priests (in the diocese) who are known pedophiles."

Luddy was suspended in 1988 and did not perform any ministerial duties afterward and eventually was removed from the priesthood, Parks said.

McCaa has not served in any ministerial capacity within the diocese since 1985, and for a number of years has been barred from public ministry, Parks said.

The five men come from deeply religious families and were brought up to respect priests, Serbin said.

Gergely told reporters that McCaa had married his parents and baptized and confirmed him. Although still a Catholic, Gergely said he believes there's "a lot more to spirituality than through the church."

Hoover and Lafferty said they no longer belong to the Catholic Church and have a deep distrust of organized religion.

According to the lawsuit, Gergely was abused by McCaa and fondled in the church sacristy and confessional on numerous occasions from 1980 to 1983.

McCaa also had the young boy sit on his lap during confession and fondled him, it's alleged.

Hoover was fondled through his clothing by McCaa, and there was inappropriate touching, hugging and tickling, it's alleged. The incidents reportedly took place from 1981 to 1985 in both the sacristy and at the church rectory.

John Doe I was abused by McCaa, the suit says, between 1975 and 1981 in the sacristy. The abuse reportedly included fondling and touching over the boy's clothing, usually during preparation for Mass and after Mass.

Luddy is accused of sexually abusing Lafferty on numerous occasions in a storage room above the church and in the rectory between 1976 and 1978.

It included sodomization, and on occasion, the priest gave the boy alcohol, it's alleged.

Between 1975 and 1977, Luddy allegedly abused John Doe II in the rectory and at the church school. The priest supposedly sodomized the boy and fondled him.

Abusive priests take advantage of their position by sexually assaulting "kids who are powerless," leaving them feeling ashamed when they did nothing wrong, said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"I hope their courage (in going public) will help others to come forward. Being trapped in secrecy and shame does not work. Time does not heal the wounds of sexual abuse," Clohessy of Chicago said during the news conference.

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