State Supreme Court to review Altoona-Johnstown child sex abuse time limits decision

HARRISBURG – A mid-level appeals court decision issued last summer that allowed some victims of childhood sexual abuse a way to pursue lawsuits despite time limits will be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the justices announced Monday.

The high court granted a request to hear the case that was made by the defendants, three priests and the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese.

The Superior Court ruled in June that Renee Rice could pursue claims that church officials' silence about a priest who she says molested her amounted to fraudulent concealment.

The Rice case has since been cited by other litigants to support their own claims, Rice's lawyer, Richard Serbin, said Monday.

“Of course I'm disappointed that they're taking the appeal. But I understand the reason why,” Serbin said in a phone interview. “Because issues were decided which there's not much case law on. And therefore, while I think the Superior Court decision is sound and will be upheld, the Supreme Court may very well want to put its stamp on it. Because we're talking about a lot of cases.”

Eric Anderson, who represents the diocese and the estates of the late Bishop Joseph Adamec and the late Bishop James Hogan, said he was pleased with the Supreme Court's decision to hear the matter.

“We think that the law is different than the way the Superior Court interpreted it,” Anderson said.

A diocesan spokesman declined to comment, and a phone message was left for Thomas Foor, a lawyer for the Rev. Charles F. Bodziak, the priest that Rice has accused of molesting her.

The justices agreed to consider whether the Superior Court decision improperly did away with the statute of limitations and a discovery rule for civil actions, and whether the lower court also mistakenly let plaintiffs sue for civil conspiracy as a secondary reason for a lawsuit when too much time has elapsed to pursue the primary reason.

The other grounds for taking the case, the Supreme Court order said, was whether the lower court wrongly established that “a fiduciary” — in this case, the church and church officials — owed “a never-ending duty to speak after the end of the relationship, thereby eliminating a plaintif...

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