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Brother rebuts priest abuse claim

Says mother, sibling concocted story that led to $1.2 million payment from Altoona diocese

Friday, August 16, 2002

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

One brother was paid $1.2 million and is seeking another $1 million in a long, bitter legal battle in which he claimed that he was molested by a former Altoona priest.

But his older brother said yesterday that he planned to offer a sworn statement last night that the story was complete fiction, engineered in part by their mother in an attempt to collect from the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Carl A. Eck, a Pittsburgh attorney representing the diocese, said yesterday that if he can verify the claim, he might use it not only to try to block payment of the additional $1 million but to pursue repayment of the $1.2 million already paid out.

"If we get proper verification," Eck said yesterday, "we will defend every right we have."

The salvo from the plaintiff's brother is the latest turn in a 14-year court case in which a former Altoona resident, now 35 and living in the Akron, Ohio area, says he was molested two decades ago by Francis Luddy -- his godfather, a priest at his Altoona parish and an admitted pedophile whom the Vatican removed from the priesthood three years ago.

Ten months ago, seven years after a Blair County civil jury found the diocese responsible for not curbing Luddy, the diocese gave up its fight to avoid compensatory damages and paid the plaintiff $1.2 million

Next month, attorneys are to argue before the state Supreme Court whether the diocese should be forced to pay an additional $1 million in punitive damages.

If he can get confirmation for the affidavit, Eck said, he may ask for a delay in that Supreme Court hearing.

"If the information is verified, it's certainly something the court should know about," he said.

But Richard Serbin, the plaintiff's lawyer, yesterday backed his client's molestation claim.

"I can tell you categorically that I believe [his] testimony, the jury believed it, everyone who was in the courtroom believed it," Serbin said.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is naming neither brother under a policy against identifying possible victims of sexual abuse.

Indeed, the plaintiff's 36-year-old brother was a victim -- by his account and by Luddy's. The priest molested him more than 300 times during a 3 1/2-year period that ended when he was 13 or 14, the older brother told the 1994 civil trial.

He told the court he had no desire to sue Luddy, although any claim would have been barred by the statute of limitations.

But in letters that he began sending to Serbin, Eck and others at the beginning of the year, the older brother began openly disputing the molestation claims. The brother said he learned about five years ago from another brother -- the youngest of the family's three sons -- that their mother coerced the youngest brother into fabricating molestation accusations against Luddy.

In a letter to Serbin, the older brother said he learned that his mother wanted abuse claims to be offered by all three of her sons to make the pending civil suit "more believable."

The youngest brother never pursued his accusations to trial, though. His mother said at the time that it was because "he wanted to get on with his life." His oldest brother said it was over fear that Eck would discover that the young man was in the service at a time that he said Luddy was molesting him.

The youngest brother could not be reached for comment. But Serbin said the man has denied his oldest brother's claims.

The oldest brother wrote in other letters to attorneys and court officials of a stormy estrangement from his mother and the plaintiff.

In an exchange of e-mails with the Post-Gazette Wednesday and yesterday, he said Serbin reassured him that "when this case is settled, there will be enough money that you will be well-compensated for the injustice that occurred to you" -- a claim that Serbin yesterday denied.

He said he agreed to signing an affidavit -- unsolicited by the diocese, Eck said -- amid what he portrayed as betrayal.

"I feel as though all parties involved used me for financial gain and then shut me out," he said in an e-mail to the Post-Gazette. "The two most trusted people in my life, [my mother] and Richard Serbin have defaulted on all promises and turned their backs on me because I provide no further financial value to them."

"He felt he was victimized and felt that he should be compensated, apparently," Serbin said. "He's a young man who's crying out for help, and the church has some responsibility to him."

Tom Gibb can be reached at tgibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.

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