Judge won't throw out church abuse lawsuits

CentreDaily.com/May 6, 2004

Hollidaysburg -- Lawsuits from a dozen people who allege they were sexually abused by priests will proceed against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese in western Pennsylvania, despite claims that the suits violate the constitutional separation of church and state, a judge ruled.

Blair County Judge Hiram Carpenter rejected claims by the diocese that the nine lawsuits infringed on freedom of religion.

"We are satisfied what is pled in the plaintiffs' (complaints) involved not an attack on the freedom to believe, but rather an attack on the freedom to act contrary to the laws of the commonwealth," Carpenter said in a ruling Wednesday.

The diocese has been buffeted by 13 lawsuits from 17 people, most alleging that they were molested by priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

The judge's ruling clears the way for the lawsuits, which are the first since a 1987 lawsuit against defrocked priest the Rev. Francis Luddy that resulted in a $1.2 million award against the diocese, said Richard Serbin, the attorney representing most of the plaintiffs.

Erie Anderson, a lawyer for the diocese, declined to comment, saying he hadn't seen the ruling.

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