Statistics can never do justice to describe the scope of sexual abuse cases plaguing the Catholic Church for decades.
Since the Boston Globe began its groundbreaking reporting on the topic in 2002, which became the basis for the movie Spotlight, much attention has now been devoted to not only the clergy abuse, but how very high levels of the Church looked the other way while it was occurring.
Now, the Church is being called to account legally for its gross errors in failing to deal with this epidemic as it was happening.
States are making it easier to sue the Church, causing inundation of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits.
A Clergy Sexual Abuse Attorney Can Help Survivors Get Justice
If you or a loved one is a victim of clergy assault at the hands of a priest or anyone else associated with the Church, you might be entitled to legal compensation.
However, given the sheer number of lawsuits that will be filed, it is best to file yours quickly due to the Church’s precarious financial situation. The clergy sexual abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC can help you and your family get justice for the harm perpetrated by a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
All of our sexual abuse cases are handled on a contingency fee basis where we only receive a legal fee when we are successful in obtaining a financial recovery for you. There is never any cost to begin the process.
We represent sexual abuse survivors across the United States. Learn more about the laws in each state by following the links below.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington, D.C.
- West Virginia
Sexual Assault is Pervasive in the Catholic Church
After some of the initial reports of sex molestation began to emerge, the Church officials commissioned a study to learn the problem’s scope. The John Jay Report found that there were over 11,000 allegations that were made against over 4,000 accused priests.
The results of the Jay Report merely scratched the surface of the potential instances of abuse out there. In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued its report that just studied Pennsylvania.
It found that there were over 1,000 identifiable abuse victims in the state, and there were likely to be thousands of additional victims.
There is no current study that indicates the estimate of victims, so we hesitate to speculate.
What we know is that likely tens of thousands of people, and possibly more, experienced sexual molestation as children at the hands of someone associated with the Church and might now have legal recourse against the Church.
There have been reported episodes of clergy abuse involving:
- Attempted rape
- Serial rape
- Gang rape
- Indecent actions, including stimulation, humiliation, and sexual satisfaction
- Extortion requiring individuals to perform inappropriate sexual activities
- Sexual harassment
- Publishing photographs, recordings, or video of degrading or humiliating sexual activity without the victim’s consent
- Sharing pornography with a minor
- A harasser’s sexual remarks or propositions
Legal Theories Under Which the Catholic Church Can Be Liable for Abuse
These victims might now seek compensation from the Church because Catholic clergy operate as representatives of the Church in their duties.
There are numerous legal theories under which a clergy abuse victim can recover from the Church.
Here are a few theories that could be used in a child sex abuse lawsuit:
- Clergy members might be liable for an employee’s misdeeds because they act as agents of the employer.
- The Church might have been negligent in its hiring and placement of priests by failing to perform the proper background checks and giving adequate scrutiny to those around children.
- The Church failed to act on credible allegations against specific priests, either leaving them in their roles or moving them to another diocese to make the problem go away in the short-term.
- An employer who knew or could have known of the possibility of wrongdoing but did not investigate could be held legally responsible.
There have been numerous findings and some indictments detailing the scope of the Church’s failure to do anything about this problem despite years of evidence piling up and new accusations being made.
The indictments involving victims of clergy abuse have reached the highest level of the Church as many senior priests are alleged to have actively participated in a coverup of sexual abuse claims.
For example, Monsignor William Lynn was indicted and convicted for concealing priests’ crimes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He was sentenced to three to six years in prison, although the state later ordered a retrial after an evidentiary issue.
Damages in Clergy Sexual Abuse Claims
Victims of clergy abuse have been been impacted in many different aspects of their life. The law allows, victims of abuse to recover compensation via a civil lawsuit against the church.
Damages in a clergy sexual abuse case are similar to other personal injury cases and are comprised of economic and non-economic damages. In some cases and jurisdictions, punitive damages may be eligible as well.
Examples of of these damages include:
- Therapy and counseling expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Lost wages
- Loss of normal life
Each attorney in our office is committed to maximizing the recovery for each clergy sexual abuse victim.
Statute of Limitations in Clergy Abuse Cases
The time for bringing a civil lawsuit is governed by a time constraint known as the statute of limitations. Lawsuits must be filed within the statute of limitations or the claim will be forever barred.
The statute of limitations in a clergy abuse case varies drastically according to where the abuse occurred– referred to as the jurisdiction.
Recognizing that many victims of abuse may be repressing their abuse, some states have extended the statute to allow a victim to bring a case years after the incident occurred.
If you have questions about the applicable time frame for bringing a child sex abuse case, we encourage you to contact our attorneys as soon as feasible so we can evaluate your situation.
Clergy Sexual Abuse FAQs
Below are some frequently asked questions raised by people who have been abused by a clergy member. Should you have additional questions, we encourage you to contact our law firm and we can address additional questions or concerns you have.
Our clergy sexual abuse attorneys have assisted many survivors seek justice and look forward to doing the same for you.
How Many Catholic Priests Have Been Accused of Abuse?
A study completed by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice revealed that nearly 4,400 Catholic religious leaders sexually assaulted more than 10,000 underage minors over seven decades.
According to an NBC news report, nearly 1,700 Roman Catholic religious leaders facing accusations of sexual assault are not currently supervised.
Many alleged sexual predators work as teachers, counselors, and coaches. Some predator priests and clergy members live and work close to daycare centers and playgrounds.
How Much Has the Roman Catholic Church Paid to Abuse Victims?
By 2019, the Church has paid over $4 billion in negotiated settlements, jury awards, and legal fees to sexually abused victims.
Many of these victims were young adults, children, and infants at the time the attack occurred. Bishopaccountability.com documents the payouts to tens of thousands of victims in the United States.
The most massive payouts came after the Pennsylvania grand jury released documents a few years ago identifying over 300 priests and religious leaders sexually assaulting children in their state.
What Is the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests?
Advocates established the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) as a support group for clergy sexual molestation survivors. The organization’s founding President, Barbara Blaine, started the group to educate and support clergy abuse victims.
The SNAP clergy abuse program has spotlighted many child abuse scandals with information available on the SNAP network.
What Can I do if My Episode of Clergy Sexual Abuse Happened Years Ago?
Yes, especially since states have now begun to change their laws. As the reports of sexual molestation began to pour in after increased media attention, states began to realize that their current laws restricted clergy abuse survivors’ rights.
What was unjust was that a victim would have had to file a lawsuit within a short time after the abuse or even in a limited amount of time as an adult.
However, many people either have blocked out the memory of the trauma that they endured or were too afraid to file a lawsuit when they were younger.
Until the past two decades, many people who experienced abuse were not believed, so they did not come forward.
Recognizing that, states began to either waive or lengthen the statutes of limitation in sex abuse cases.
Here are some examples of changes made by individual states in response to growing reports of widespread sexual molestation:
- In 2013, Illinois’ governor signed a bill that removed all relevant statutes of limitations in sex molestation cases. Now survivors of clergy abuse can bring a lawsuit at any time, regardless of how long ago the abuse allegedly occurred.
- New York and New Jersey passed laws that extended the age until sexual abuse survivors can file a claim to fifty-five years old.
- California now gives victims either until the age of forty or five years after discovering previous abuse to file a lawsuit.
- Texas recently expanded its statute of limitations in child sexual
- abuse civil suits against the abuser and institution until thirty years after the victim’s 18th birthday.
Other states have now given victims a seven-year window in which the statute of limitations is temporarily waived to allow them to file lawsuits. However, the waiver will expire at a certain point in time, so victims must file lawsuits now.
Some experts have estimated that the change in states’ statutes of limitations might subject the Catholic Church to approximately $4-5 billion of additional liability.
Will I Need to Face My Abuser in Court if I File a Clergy Abuse Claim?
You are unlikely to have to confront your abuser in court if you file a clergy abuse claim. Many clergy abuse claims get resolved out-of-court, without the need to file a lawsuit.
However, even in filed clergy abuse lawsuits, the chances of you directly facing your abuser is relatively slim as many of the accused clergy are deceased or are in jail.
Our sexual abuse lawyers are sensitive to the emotional toll a claim takes on each victim and we always take steps needed to make the process as smooth as possible.
Furthermore, your attorney will be present during all proceeding and conferences providing an additional layer of support.
What if My Abuser is in Jail?
Thankfully, law enforcement officials have aggressively prosecuted many episodes of abuse and many clergy members facing criminal charges are now serving time in jail.
When an accused clergy member is in jail, a civil claim can still be initiated against the church. If the testimony of the incarcerated clergy member is needed, your attorney can issue a subpoena and force them to appear for a deposition or court proceedings.
What Happens if a Diocese Declares Bankruptcy?
Declaring bankruptcy does not allow the Church to escape responsibility for what they failed to protect children from priests’ actions.
Several dioceses have declared bankruptcy due to the crushing burden of legal liability that they might face due to the massive amounts of abuse victims. However, sex abuse victims can still receive financial compensation.
Clergy abuse cases that have already been brought against the Church and have been settled and paid are not affected. However, the bankruptcy process does impact claims filed or those that will be filed in the future.
Those who are entitled to compensation due to sexual molestation become creditors of the Church. The exact amount of compensation becomes subject to the bankruptcy court and the trustee.
The Church cannot use the bankruptcy process to escape its debts. However, bankruptcy could limit the number of assets available for paying the victims for the harm that they have suffered.
As part of their bankruptcy filings, many organizations establish settlement funds to compensate victims that have or will file claims.
However, some churches are aggressively trying to limit the number of assets to pay victims.
According to ABC News, as of early 2018, the Church had an estimated $30 billion in wealth in the United States. Worldwide, the Church is likely worth hundreds of billions of dollars or more.
Much of the Church’s wealth is held in Parish churches, parochial schools, hospitals, nursing homes, offices, and presbyteries. Like all religious organizations, the Church maintains a nonprofit tax-free status because it defines itself as a religious charity.
Thus, aggressive legal counsel is necessary, but the bankruptcy process will ultimately have the final say over how much money you will receive.
How Do I Go About Proving a Clergy Abuse Case?
You will prove that abuse occurred through a preponderance of the evidence.The good news for sexual abuse survivors is that civil suits do not have the same proof as criminal cases.
In a criminal case, the abuse must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A civil case requires just a preponderance of the evidence.
Corroborating evidence might be unavailable most likely since the alleged assault will have happened decades ago. Many Catholic priests who committed the sexual abuse crimes are now dead, and they cannot testify.
Much of the proof will depend on the victim and their credibility.
There might be the testimony of mental health professionals that is required to substantiate the allegations.Much of the prospect of recovery might depend on how much the victim can remember of their past.
As you can see from one of the cases detailed below, sometimes expert testimony demonstrating PTSD might be enough to persuade a jury.
Sometimes, winning a sex molestation lawsuit shows that the defendant organizations knew or should have known the abuse was occurring instead of proving that a particular act occurred.
Who Can I Sue for Sex Abuse at the Hands of the Catholic Church?
The diocese where the abuse occurred would be financially responsible for the actions of the Catholic priest.
The Catholic Church is not a monolithic organization. In other words, there is not one overall religious organization to sue for sexual molestation. Instead, A bishop oversees each church jurisdiction(diocese).
Every diocese is a separate and distinct organization. The diocese holds assets and debts in its name. The diocese would have had the ultimate responsibility for supervising the priest, even if the abuse occurred within a particular parish.
In most clergy sexual abuse cases, it would make sense to sue the diocese instead of the individual priest who committed the abuse. First of all, many of the Catholic priests died many years ago.
Second, the individual priests would not have the assets necessary to satisfy a civil judgment. Typically, you will want to sue the defendant with the deepest pockets possible in a lawsuit like this.
In this case, it would be the diocese.
Can I Sue the Vatican Over Sexual Assault by a Clergy Member?
Based on a recent court ruling, it could be a possibility. Several sex abuse victims filed a lawsuit against the Vatican, which would appear to be the deepest pocketed defendant of them all. Different legal issues are at play here, such as whether the Vatican, as a foreign entity, could be sued civilly in a U.S. Court.
However, a court recently ruled that a lawsuit against the Vatican could move forward on the theory that the priests and bishops who committed and covered up the sexual molestation were employees of the Vatican.
There is an exception to the law that would ordinarily shield the Vatican against this type of lawsuit for acts committed within the scope of the individual’s employment by a foreign country.
The Vatican has denied responsibility for the decades of clergy abuse and said it was unaware of what was happening. Now, this might be litigated in a courtroom in the U.S.
Nonetheless, no legal precedent was established at the time of this writing since the case has yet to be tried. So the appropriate answer to this question is a “we will see.”
Can I Sue the Individual Parish Where the Clergy Sexual Assault Occurred?
Possibly. Some recent cases are beginning to look to the parishes for financial compensation. Some plaintiffs are now trying to find their way around the bankruptcy filings occurring at the diocesan level.
They are trying to sue the parish with its assets and not be subject to the bankruptcy filing.
An example in Buffalo, NY, reveals that the diocese has already filed for bankruptcy. Its action would keep the case in state court instead of moving it to the bankruptcy court, where the case against the bankrupt diocese would be moved. Whether this is a viable strategy remains to be seen because it is unclear how courts would rule.
Catholic Church Clergy Abuse Large-Scale Settlements
Numerous dioceses have either filed for bankruptcy or entered into large-scale settlements with sex abuse victims. The total amount of Church sex molestation lawsuit settlements is now approximately $4 billion, and the number is expected to grow substantially.
Here are some examples of recent sex molestation lawsuits:
- In 1997, the Diocese of Dallas became the first diocese to make a payment to settle cases, with a $31 million settlement.
- One of the earliest and largest settlements was entered into by the
- Diocese of Los Angeles. The diocese paid a total of $660 million to
- settle cases alleging abuse by over 200 priests. Each victim recovered
- an average of $780,000 for their share of the settlement.
- In 2007, the diocese of San Diego paid $198.1 million to settle 144 sex abuse lawsuits.
Catholic Church Sex Abuse Jury Verdicts
Civil lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse that have gone to trial have resulted in even larger jury verdicts against the Church.
Here are some examples:
- In 2015, a Minnesota jury awarded a plaintiff an $8.1 million verdict against the Diocese of Duluth for damages that included lost future earnings. The lawsuit alleged that the diocese failed to supervise the priest and should have known that the priest was a danger to children.After the jury verdict, which was one of the largest in the country when it was issued, Duluth’s Diocese declared bankruptcy.
- In 2019, a New York jury awarded four childhood victims of sexual abuse a total of $27.5 million in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Brooklyn. The children were between the ages of 8-12 at the time of the abuse.
The incidents occurred in the mid-2000s, so the victims’ memories were relatively fresh. The diocese did not employ the abuser, but he received a stipend, so he representative of the diocese when committing the abuse.
The abuser had already been barred from a daycare where he had been employed, and the plaintiffs claimed that the Church should have been aware of that and realized why he was let go.
- In one of the earlier sexual molestation lawsuits, an Iowa jury awarded a 56-year-old man over $1.5 million in damages against the Diocese of Davenport as it found that it either knew or should have known the plaintiff’s abuse.The defendant unsuccessfully tried to have the case dismissed on statute of limitations issues that are no longer considered in many states that have either waived them or given a new window to sue. The plaintiff proved his case based on expert testimony, which showed he has PTSD from abuse.
Although the Catholic Church has stepped up its efforts to deal with the problem and has improved some of its oversight, clergy sexual molestation continues today. While there are new supervision levels and increased vetting and reporting methods, there are still new abuse cases.
The Assets of the Roman Catholic Church: How It Impacts Victims
Many dioceses have declared bankruptcy because they do not want their staggering legal liability to take away from their vast assets. It is estimated that the Vatican alone might be worth as much as $15 billion with their extensive holdings of stocks and corporate interests.
Even the Diocese of Buffalo, which declared bankruptcy in the face of lawsuits, listed nearly $50 million in net assets. Its 2018 financial statement listed assets of approximately $66 million.
While insurance has covered part of the settlements that individual dioceses have entered, their assets are still at risk due to the number of creditors.
You might be surprised to know exactly how many liquid assets the Church has. While some of the assets are in the form of property and real estate, each diocese will have millions of dollars in cash and even more in investments. Ordinarily, this would be subject to a judgment.
Now, dioceses are taking steps to shield their assets from the large numbers of creditors they will owe. However, there have been numerous accounts of the Church reclassifying assets to keep them away from their creditors if they declare bankruptcy.
One media account reported that the Church had moved or reclassified as much as $2 billion in assets to protect them.
Were You Sexually Abused By Someone Associated with the Catholic Church? Hire a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer Now
No matter how long ago your abuse occurred, as you can see from above, you might still be able to get justice for what you have gone through in the form of financial compensation.
Throughout the decades of abuse, the Church cannot escape liability for its culpability level that children were subjected to by thousands of priests.
Each clergy abuse lawyer at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers is committed to your case. We recognize survivors of clergy abuse face many issues when it comes to holding their abusers accountable, and we will tactfully work with you, recognizing that this will likely cause trauma for you, even decades later.
We commit to handling civil claims with the sensitivity that they deserves. Call us today to schedule your free initial consultation.
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