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Two Additional Lawsuits Filed Against Altoona-Johnstown Diocese

Nov 19, 2003 | AP

Two complaints filed Tuesday on behalf of a man and a woman who claim they were sexually abused by priests accuse the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown of failing to properly investigate the allegations and moving the accused from one parish to another.

A lawyer now has filed 13 lawsuits on behalf of 16 clients, none of which target the priests in question but instead blame the diocese, current Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, or his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan, for failing to properly investigate alleged abuse dating to the 1950s.

One of the most recent civil lawsuits, filed in Blair County Court, claims the Rev. Joseph Strittmatter sexually abused Therese Roland McIntyre, 47, of Cedaredge, Colo., for as many as four years until she was about 12 years old. At the time, Strittmatter, who is McIntyre's uncle, was a priest at St. John the Baptist Church in Acosta, Somerset County, the lawsuit said.

In a written statement, diocesan spokeswoman Sister Mary Parks said officials had not seen the lawsuits as of Tuesday afternoon and could only generally speak about the cases.

McIntyre brought her concerns to the diocese last fall, at a time when the diocese had already restricted Strittmatter from ministry. Based on McIntyre's allegations and the U.S. Catholic Bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Adamec told Strittmatter he could no longer wear priestly garb or publicly present himself as a priest, the statement said.

Efforts by The Associated Press to reach Strittmatter Tuesday were unsuccessful. No one answered at a telephone listing under his name.

A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff who claimed the Rev. Joseph J. Bender molested him for as many as eight years while Bender was a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Dudley, Huntingdon County.

Bender, who has been named in some of Serbin's other lawsuits, relinquished his ministerial responsibilities in June 1992 and died in August 2000, the diocese said.

All the lawsuits filed are similar in that they don't name priests as defendants, mainly because the alleged abuse occurred beyond the statute of limitations. Instead, the complaints charge that the diocese, Adamec and Hogan failed to investigate and act on complaints, allowing allegedly abusive priests to molest other children.

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