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Diocese Hit With New Lawsuit

Aug 21, 2003 | THE TRIBUNE-DEMOCRAT

Another man is suing Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese contending he was molested by a priest more than three decades ago and nothing was done to stop it.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in Blair County Court by Altoona attorney Richard Serbin on behalf of a man who has chosen to remain anonymous.

Last week, Serbin filed suits on behalf of two men, John T. Arndt, 49, of Elmira, N.Y., and David T. Saveleski, 53, of Annapolis, Md. They alleged they were abused by priests in the 1950s and 1960s.

Yesterday’s lawsuit is the ninth sexual-abuse lawsuit filed against the diocese by Serbin. An additional lawsuit has been filed by the mother of a supposed victim.

In last week’s suit, Arndt says he was abused by the late Rev. Joseph Bender, the same priest named as the abuser in yesterday’s filing by the anonymous plaintiff.

In yesterday’s filing, the suit says the 42-year-old plaintiff says he was between 7 and 8 years old and an altar boy when he was molested by Bender, his priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Renovo, Clinton County.

The plaintiff said he was abused on numerous occasions beginning in 1968 or 1969 and continuing until late 1970.

Serbin said his client, like Arndt, was a member of St. Joe’s Little Singers, a choir of which Bender was in charge.

The suit alleges the abuse also took place at a camp maintained by Bender on Hyner Mountain, about 10 miles east of Renovo, where Bender took the plaintiff and other members of the choir. Serbin said the abuse also took place on a trip to Oregon, where Bender took his client and other choir members.

Serbin said it’s his contention that the diocese knew of problems with Bender and numerous other priests, but didn’t do anything about it.
In a telephone interview from his office, Serbin said it’s difficult for victims to be publicly named.

Some, such as the man in yesterday’s filing, do not feel comfortable while others do.
Sister Mary Parks, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the church learned yesterday that Serbin had filed a lawsuit with allegations nearly identical to those he has filed the past several months.
“Again, we express our sincere concern and prayers for any victim of abuse,†she said in a news release. “This particular case involved an anonymous plaintiff who says he was abused by Rev. Joseph Bender in 1968 or 1969.â€
She said Bender left the ministry in 1992 and died Aug. 7, 2000.

Bishop Joseph Adamec is traveling and has not seen yesterday’s suit, Parks said.

“We again state that the allegation in these lawsuits, that some sort of conspiracy exists within this diocesan church allowing and even promoting inappropriate behavior on the part of its priests in regard to minors, is false,†she said. “The bishop denies and knows of no such conspiracy.â€

She said in addition to implementing a mandatory training program for all adults who work with or around children, the diocese has a victim’s advocacy program headed by Sister Marilyn Welch.


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