Judge to Hear Arguments in Civil Case Alleging Diocese Covered up Abuse of Girls by Priest Years Ago
By Dave Sutor
May 18, 2017
A Blair County judge is expected to decide on Thursday if a civil case involving the alleged sexual abuse of two children decades ago can continue.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown, retired Bishop Joseph Adamec, and the estate of deceased Bishop James Hogan are accused of fraud, constructive fraud and conspiracy in the case.
Last June, sisters Cheryl Haun and Renee Rice, now in their late 40s, filed the case, alleging they were molested by Rev. Charles Bodziak, who is also named as a defendant, when he served at St. Leo’s in Altoona during the 1970s and into the 1980s. (The Tribune-Democrat does not normally identify alleged victims of sexual crimes. The sisters, however, have publicly identified themselves and spoken with reporters.)
The defendants are asking for the dismissal since the statute of limitations has expired for the crime of child sexual abuse in the case of Bodziak. The request has been made specifically in the Rice accusations.
Judge Jolene Grubb Kopriva is scheduled to hear the pleadings, beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday.
When asked for a comment, Tony DeGol, Altoona-Johnstown's secretary for communications, wrote in an email: “The Diocese does not discuss pending litigation.”
Eric Anderson, an attorney for the diocese, did not respond to a request for an interview.
The civil claim is not directly about the alleged abuse, according to Richard Serbin, an attorney representing Rice and Haun. The plaintiffs brought the case based on a 2016 grand jury report's allegations that the diocese perpetrated a decades-long coverup to protect predator religious leaders, sometimes with assistance from law enforcement agencies and court officers.
“How can an individual who doesn't have the power of the offices of those various criminal and civil authorities be expected to uncover what none of those criminal or civil authorities were able to uncover?” Serbin asked.
In a document submitted to the court, Serbin wrote: “Plaintiffs allege the Defendants' intentionally withheld vital information from them and the public to protect the reputation of Diocesan priests and the church.”
Bodziak, born on Sept. 22, 1941, was suspended from his most recent post at St. Michael Roman Catholic Church in St. Michael last year due to allegations he sexually abused children decades ago. He is listed on the diocese's website as a priest who has been placed on leave from public ministry due to the existence of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.