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Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown ACCUSED PRIESTS

We often view churches as one of the safest places to be, where we can seek refuge and guidance, but it has been anything but safe for many children in the Roman Catholic Church. In August of 2018, a lengthy report released by a Pennsylvania grand jury detailed extensive child sex abuse present in its dioceses.

Specifically, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown covers the following counties: Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset. Legal trouble for this Diocese predates the publication of the explosive 2018 grand jury report.

In 2012 and 2013, a friar by the name of Brother Stephen Baker, working out of the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, became known to the public for his alleged sexual abuse of children happening when employed at the former Bishop McCort High School as a trainer. The district attorney assigned to the case eventually realized that the situation stretched beyond her jurisdiction, passing it along to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the investigation involved the entire Diocese.

The case concerning Brother Stephen Baker was not the only case to arise out of the Diocese of Alton-Johnstown, nor was it the only instance of child sexual abuse to happen in the Diocese. The number of child sexual abuse instances happening in this Diocese is likely much higher than the allegations that have come to light in recent years. Unfortunately, many victims of childhood sexual abuse never come forward, making the true number of instances in many dioceses unknown.

Another lawsuit filed in 2016 against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown alleged a cover-up of child sex abuse over multiple decades. The lawsuit was unique because it focused on the cover-up rather than the alleged abuse by Charles F. Bodziak, a former Catholic priest who has since retired.

The lawsuit came after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report containing details of the Diocese’s knowledge of the abuse and how Church leaders chose to do nothing about it. Cover-ups happened in many dioceses throughout the country. The Church’s leadership often silenced victims and rarely punished the perpetrators. Instead, it reassigned abusers, sending them to other dioceses where they could continue to abuse children sexually.

The suit faced challenges based on the time of its filing, which fell after the statute of limitations passed since the abuse took place in the mid-1970s. The plaintiff’s attorney, though, argued, “I did not sue for the sexual assault… I sued only for conspiracy, fraud, and constructive fraud.”

Early last year, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown found itself added to a lawsuit that included Greensburg, Harrisburg, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The lawsuit claimed that the dioceses weren’t reporting child sex abuse accusations as they should’ve been.

In December 2018, the bishop for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown made a rare statement on the sex abuse scandal in the diocese’s official publication, The Catholic Register. That issue of the Register included multiple pieces on the topic, the bishop’s statement, and a chart that outlined the financial toll the alleged misconduct had on the Diocese. From July 1999 to December 2018, the scandal up to that point had cost the Diocese about $21.5 million.

You can find the following information on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown website for Reporting Child Abuse, linked from the Diocese and the How Do I… menus. On this page, there are several phone numbers for different abuse situations and resources to help you through the reporting process, along with a link to the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service website. There is also a list of community service agencies with their respective phone numbers corresponding to each county served by the Diocese.

It might also be possible for you to receive compensation for your injuries and suffering stemming from sexual abuse by clergy members at the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Pennsylvania law currently allows for childhood sexual abuse survivors to file civil lawsuits up to their 55th birthday. However, this new legislation enacted in 2019 only governs cases of abuse happening after the bill’s passing. Child sexual abuse happening before 2019 falls under the former statute of limitations, which bars the filing of civil lawsuits once the victim reaches their 30th birthday.

Pennsylvania legislators drafted another piece of legislation titled House Bill 14 that would provide a two-year look-back window enabling all child sexual abuse survivors to file a civil claim for compensation within the two years, no matter how old they currently are or how long ago the abuse happened. The bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate, with Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward asserting it’s unconstitutional as presented. As a result, lawmakers will now have to go through a lengthy amendment process and perhaps get Pennsylvania voters involved, possibly not seeing its passing until late 2022 or early 2023.

Regardless, it’s important to speak with a sexual abuse lawyer if you’ve suffered child sexual abuse by the Church. Contact Herman Law today for a free consultation to determine if you’re still able to file a civil claim against your abuser and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown that allowed the abuse to happen. We want to help you get the closure and justice you deserve.

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