Bishop: Diocese Ends Abuse Case
Oseph V. Adamec Announces That an Appeal Will Not Be Filed, Bringing to a Close the Decades-Old Michael Hutchison Case

By Phil Ray
Altoona Mirror [Pennsylvania]
April 16, 2006

A court battle that has lasted nearly two decades between a former Altoona man and the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese has ended with an announcement Saturday that the diocese will not file another appeal.

Bishop Joseph V. Adamec's decision is printed in the Monday edition of The Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the diocese. Although the publication date is April 17, some parishioners received their copies in the mail Saturday.

Adamec's decision means 38-year-old Michael Hutchison, now of Columbus, Ohio, will receive $1 million plus interest in punitive damages awarded by a Blair County jury in 1994. Hutchison claimed that he was sexually molested by a priest.

The payment will be forwarded through Hutchison's attorney this week.

His attorney, Richard Serbin, estimated in March that the interest could be nearly $700,000 because of the long time the case has been before the state Superior and Supreme Courts.

The money is in addition to $1 million paid to Hutchison several years ago, which included compensatory damages.

The issue Adamec was addressing involved a decision in March by the Superior Court in which it determined that the evidence introduced during the 1994 civil trial before Judge Hiram A. Carpenter was enough to support punitive damages.

Hutchison filed his suit in 1987 with his mother, Mary, who claimed that Michael was sexually molested by Father Francis Luddy, who was godfather to Michael and his brother Mark and who met the boys through their attendance at St. Theresa's Catholic Church and Elementary School in Altoona.

Luddy admitted molesting the older brother but denied touching Michael.

The diocese denied that it mishandled or ignored complaints of child sexual abuse by priests, a charge that proved to be the crux of contention for the past 19 years.

The court decision upholding the punitive damages will have consequences for the diocese and any employer, including a business, that does not properly handle inappropriate actions by employees, the Adamec said.

Serbin had to show that the dioscese's action in dealing with molestation cases was "outrageous," and the Superior Court agreed the trial testimony showed just that.

Luddy and other priests with histories of abuse were permitted to remain on the job, where they could have access to children, the testimony showed.

Since 2002, the diocese has appointed an Allegation Review Committee to examine complaints by alleged victims and has adopted a program called the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The diocese has been found to be in complainace with the charter.

As for Hutchison, he repeatedly has said that he did not initiate the lawsuit for the money but to help other people.

Hutchison still is attempting to overcome the abuse he suffered, he said.

"I am trying to make good of everything in life. I have tried. I have tried over the years. I just haven't gotten there," he said in a recent telephone interview.

The diocese could have appealed the Superior Court decision by requesting a review by the Supreme Court, but Adamec said in his statement, "the time has come for this sad chapter in our diocesan history to end."

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.


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