Superior Court Reinstates Priest Molestation Lawsuit Filed against Altoona-johnstown Diocese
By Karen Kidd
June 28, 2019
The state Superior Court recently reinstated a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown filed by a woman who alleged she was repeatedly molested by a pedophile priest in the 1970s and 1980s.
In its 38-page decision, the Superior Court reversed a December 2017 Blair County Common Pleas Court decision dismissing the lawsuit filed by Renee’ A. Rice, saying the diocesan defendants were not entitled to judgment on the pleadings based upon the statute of limitations. "All three of Ms. Rice’s issues on appeal have merit," the Superior Court said in remanding the case.
Judge Deborah A. Kunselman wrote the Superior Court decision in which judges Eugene B. Strassburger and Jacqueline O. Shogan concurred. Strassburger is a retired senior judge was assigned to the Superior Court in this case.
In her lawsuit, Rice alleged that she was about 9 when a then-priest at St. Leo’s Church in Altoona, Rev. Charles F. Bodziak, began molesting her and continued to do so for years, as often as twice a week. Rice said the abuse occurred in the church's rectory, a cemetery and in Bodziak's car and did not end until 1981.
The diocesan defendants argued that the statute of limitations on Rice's claims ended in October 1987, two years after her 18th birthday.
Blair County Judge Jolene Grubb Kopriva agreed and dismissed Rice’s lawsuit.
"To support that contention, they [the diocese] predominately relied upon two cases from this court that had affirmed judgments on the pleadings in favor of pedophile clergy and various, corporate manifestations of the Catholic Church under the statute of limitations," the Superior Court's decision said.
The Superior Court reinstated Rice's lawsuit based on a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Nicolaou v. Martin, which was handed down about 10 months after Kopriva's dismissal and which abrogated the Superior Court decisions upon which Kopriva had relied.
The Nicolaou case was filed by a woman who alleged a physician failed to diagnose her Lyme disease, and the state's highest court found that a jury, rather than a judge, must decide whether a plaintiff's lawsuit was timely.
"Only a jury may determine whether Ms. Rice reasonably investigated the diocesan defendants," the Superior Court's decision said.