Priest abuse ruling appealed

By Kay Stephens
Altoona Mirror
April 24, 2018

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The state Superior Court is being asked to review a Blair County judicial ruling in December that halted a civil court lawsuit by a woman who alleges she was sexually molested by her priest while growing up in Altoona.

Renee A. Rice should have her day in court, Altoona attorney Richard Serbin said Monday when asked about the appeal that he and co-counsel, Alan H. Perer of Pittsburgh, have filed with the appellate court.

Together, the attorneys are challenging former Blair County Judge Jolene G. Kopriva’s conclusion that Rice cannot pursue her claims in court because the statute of limitations has expired.

Rice and her sister, Cheryl Haun, filed their lawsuits in June 2016, against Father Charles Bodziak, the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, the retired Bishop Joseph Adamec and Monsignor Michael E. Servinsky, executor of the estate of Bishop James Hogan.

Both women accuse Bodziak, a priest at St. Leo’s Church in the 1970s, of sexually assaulting them as girls. Rice’s lawsuit accuses the priest of groping, fondling and kissing her when she did chores at the church, while they were on outings and when she was in Bodziak’s car.

Haun’s lawsuit is on hold, pending her sister’s case.

The women initiated the lawsuits after a grand jury investigation in March 2016 named Bodziak, who is no longer a priest, as one of dozens of priests who molested children during a 40-year time span.

Bodziak, outside a Blair County Court hearing in May 2017, denied the claims.

But the women haven’t backed away from their accusations, and Serbin said Monday that he will keep fighting on their behalf, just as he has done for 30 years on behalf of others abused by priests.

In her December ruling, Kopriva said she reviewed two Superior Court cases, both in 2005, involving similar allegations and arguments, before concluding that the statute of limitations had expired.

Serbin had tried to counter that position by asking the judge to consider exceptions based on fraud and the discovery of new information. Kopriva’s ruling indicated that she found no exceptions.

In their appeal, Serbin and Perer ask the Superior Court to recognize that Rice could not have filed her lawsuit without gaining information from the grand jury report because before the report, Rice had no way of knowing what the diocese did to cover up and conceal Bodziak’s actions.

The grand jury report indicated that the diocese kept information about abusive priests in separate secret archives.

In her ruling, Kopriva referenced the potential for appeal in the case and her limitations based on the Superior Court’s earlier rulings.

“At times we reach that point in law, owing either to binding precedent or statutory authority, where a wrong may regrettably have no redress,” the judge wrote. “The appellate courts or Legislature retain the power to alter that situation if they so choose.”

Briefs on behalf of the diocese and related defendants are to be filed with Superior Court by May 16.



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