The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds the statute of limitations in a child abuse case involving a priest.
Victims of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church in Pennsylvania were dealt a blow on Wednesday when the state Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a woman whose lower court victory had given hope to other victims who had sued after a bombshell report detailing the church’s scourge of child abuse.
The case of plaintiff Renee Rice, who sought compensation from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for allegedly concealing and aiding sexual assault she said she suffered from a priest in the late 1970s, came to an end with the court’s 5-2 decision.
Rice filed a lawsuit in 2016, but the majority of the court found that the Pennsylvania statute of limitations had run out.
Rice’s lawyer, Alan Perer, stated that the ruling of the top court puts an end to his client’s lawsuit.
“Once a child learns that a priest has abused them, it puts them on notice that they should have suspected and investigated whether or not the diocese was aware of this priest conduct, hidden it, and kept it from the parishioners, including the plaintiff,” Perer said.
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In 2019, a Superior Court panel concluded that there were sufficient facts to allow a jury to assess whether Rice was barred from learning about the alleged cover-up of her abuse.
Rice was a church organist and was brought in as a youngster to clean the living space of her alleged assailant, Rev. Charles F. Bodziak. The charges have been refuted by Bodziak.
The two-year statute of limitations began to run when Rice was last assaulted by Bodziak, allegedly in 1981, according to the Supreme Court majority, but it may have expired in 1987, when she turned 20. Rice did not pursue her charges until a grand jury report into the diocese’s abuse in 2016.
For the majority, Justice Christine Donohue stated, “We do not need to answer the matter since it is evident that the statute of limitations passed decades ago.”
According to Donohue, determining whether “courthouse doors should be opened for suits based on underlying conduct that occurred long ago is an exercise in line drawing that includes difficult policy determinations” and that courts are “ill-equipped to make that call” is an exercise in line drawing that includes difficult policy determinations.
Eric Anderson, the diocese’s counsel, praised the judgment.
“They’ll follow the statute of limitations exactly as it should be. This is a condensed version of the information.