Diocese Finally Pays Victim of Sex Abuse

By Tom Gibb
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
October 17, 2001

Altoona - After 14 years of fierce legal combat, the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese is paying $1.2 million to a former altar boy who charged that he was molested repeatedly by his former parish priest.

But in a statement released by the diocese, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec maintained that the diocese doesn't accept culpability for the priest's actions and said that church officials will continue fighting a second, unresolved prong of the case: payment of another $1 million in punitive damages.

Without mentioning the plaintiff, who is now 34, Adamec said the diocese's sympathies "are with those who are acted against, especially by those whom they should trust."

"I think it's sad we had to wait this long," the plaintiff's mother, his guardian, said yesterday. "I just want my son to get help."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

The case centered on former priest Francis Luddy, 59, an admitted pedophile who was relieved of parish duties in the mid-1980s, when the lawsuit was filed. Three years ago, the Vatican tossed Luddy out of the priesthood altogether.

The plaintiff -- now living in Akron, Ohio, and claiming that the abuse pushed him to drug addiction and severe mental illness -- said Luddy began molesting him when he was 11, not long after his mother began taking him and his brothers to Luddy's Altoona parish.

In 1994, during a three-month trial in Blair County Common Pleas Court, Luddy admitted molesting the plaintiff's older brother but denied molesting the plaintiff, testifying that the youngster "wasn't attractive."

The diocese never sought to defend Luddy. Instead, its lawyers argued that the diocese couldn't be held responsible for what the priest did on his own at a motel.

"It has been a question as to whether or not the spiritual leader of the church should be held responsible for every single action of one of the ministers under his charge," Adamec said.

Jurors at the trial awarded the plaintiff $1.6 million, the bulk of it assessed against the diocese. Interest has been added to the judgment over time. But until now, the award has remained tied up in appeals.

Two weeks ago, the state Supreme Court refused to hear the diocese's request to throw out $1.2 million in compensatory damages. Diocesan lawyers could have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court, but apparently finding no federal issue on which to base an appeal, decided to abandon the case.

The state Supreme Court has not decided yet whether to consider reinstating $1 million in punitive damages cut out by state Superior Court.

The plaintiff is nearing release from jail in Ohio on a parole violation stemming from charges originally brought almost a decade ago, when he said he was a drug addict, suffering from delusions and working an Akron park as a prostitute.

His mother said that with the diocese payout, her son will first get drug rehabilitation, then receive extensive, long-term psychiatric treatment -- treatment that experts who testified on his behalf said would bring partial improvement at best.


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