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Altoona attorney responds to statement made by Bishop Adamec

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin said he applauds the steps the Altoona diocese intends to implement to protect children from sexual abuse, but rejects the idea the diocese is learning more than what it knew before.
Serbin’s sentiments come on the heels of a statement made public by Bishop Joseph Adamec yesterday, one of two church leaders recently accused of allowing sexual molestation in the church to go-on unpunished. The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese is also named in the suit.
“There were comments that were made that they were learning more that they didn’t know before,” said Serbin from his office this morning, “but the sexual molestation of children has always been a criminal act in Pennsylvania. There is, nor was there ever, a learning curve. It was always wrong.
“To suggest that there’s a learning curve here – I do reject that.”
In the bishop’s three-page statement, Adamec states that he and retired Bishop James Hogan, the second man named in the suit, both made “decisions with the overall good of God’s People in mind” and the decisions were “based upon the best available data and professional advice available at those times.”
The statement continues: “Current decisions are based upon the best available data and professional advice of today. As in other areas, this has changed over a period of time; and, not only for the Church but for society in general.”
Although not named as defendants in the case, the two priests involved are Monsignor Francis McCaa of Holy Name Catholic Church in Ebensburg and Father Francis Luddy of St. Therese’s Catholic Church.
According to the lawsuits filed last week on behalf of five victims of alleged child abuse, Father Luddy and Monsignor McCaa performed molestation acts on as many as five young men approximately 20 years ago. The lawsuit states the Diocese and its leaders, bishops Adamec and Hogan, concealed reports the boys were being abused.
In Adamec’s statement, he says; “it is regrettable that sexual and physical abuse of minors has occurred and that there are individuals continuing to suffer as a result. It is deplorable that sexual abuse of minors has occurred at the hands of priests within the Roman Catholic Church.”
He said it is his intention to follow the charter adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the “norms” approved by the Holy See. These “norms” become effective this year.
Also in his statement, Adamec addresses the complaint filed by Serbin. He said, given the facts and circumstances of the events, properly handled the cases.
“For the benefit of our faithful, religious and clergy in their having to experience another day in court, as well as for that of the general public, it is incumbent upon me to respond. Otherwise, the perception left would not be accurate,” reads the complaint. “This is especially necessary in light of the number of inaccuracies in the mass media reports, as well as the legal complaints.
“The complaints accuse the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, along with former Diocesan Bishop Hogan and me, of not handling cases of alleged minor abuse by priests appropriately. I believe that each one of us did, given the facts and circumstances, properly handle such cases.”
Attorney Serbin disagreed.
Serbin said he and his clients, for nearly a year, attempted to resolve the claims with the diocese without any success. He said it’s now the Diocese obligation to respond to the complaint.
“Bishop Adamec said there were a number of inaccuracies set forth in my complaint,” said Serbin. “I’m satisfied that the very specific facts set forth in the complaint can be proven in a court of law.
“Many of the facts can be supported by prior testimony secured under oath. These specific allegations, I’m satisfied, can be established.”
Serbin said he hasn’t spoken with his clients concerning the statement and said he wouldn’t do so unless any of the clients wanted to talk about it.
With the filing of the complaint on Feb. 7, the Diocese has 20 days to file a response, The deadline for that filing is Feb. 27. Afterwhich, both sides can seek discovery, or additional information concerning the matter, and work court motions and documents from there.
Father Joseph Orr, of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Tyrone, took time this morning to speak with The Daily Herald concerning the situation.
“It’s an interesting fact the first morning Bishop Adamec was here in our diocese, the doorbell rang, and it was someone with a subpoena,” said Father Joseph Orr of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Tyrone. “What a way to be welcomed to the Church. It was just breaking loose when he got here, and he was put on the grill.
“The priests feel that why should our people pay for the errors of these priests. Our priests have encouraged the Bishop to fight this in particular for the injustices involved,” he continued. “We have a great deal of compassion for the victims involved. This case is not about victims or justice for victims; this case is purely about how much money we can soak out of the Catholic Church.”
The release from the Bishop states that the diocesan policy was put into effect in 1987 of taking allegations against clergy seriously. The diocese would meet with the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator, while keeping confidentiality. Since 1995, clergy are required to report to authorities alleged abuse. However, at the time of the complaints in the current case, there was no obligation or law requiring clergy to do so.
“The fact that it’s public is not a problem,” said Father Orr. “Some people are using it as a personal grudge against the Catholic Church. I was talking to a lady whose son was abused in another state by a non-Catholic youth minister. She went to the police, and they wouldn’t prosecute. The district attorney said if was a priest we would prosecute. Nobody’s interested in what other perpetuators are doing.”
Adamec did not become the Bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese until May 20, 1987.
In his statement, he said, “There is no way that I or any of my staff can have ‘direct knowledge of the daily functioning of the various religious and recreation programs operating in each parish.’”
Father Orr said that child abuse needs to be prevented and the focus should be shifted to the safety of children.
“We need a lot more focus on child abuse prevention. For any of us who care about children, to deal with a child once he’s been victimized is unacceptable. We need to deal with the problems to protect the children from molestation.”
For anyone who would like to review the whole statement of Bishop Adamec in its entirety, it can be found at www.diocesealtjtn.org/news/.