Can You Sue the Catholic Church?
For the past two decades, the Catholic church has faced a reckoning for horrific abuse committed by its priests and covered up by its leadership. Thousands of victims of childhood sexual abuse have come forward demanding justice for what they endured that scarred them for life.
It is impossible to undo the harm that priests inflicted upon innocent children. Now, the best thing that an abuse survivor can do to get justice is to obtain legal representation to seek civil damages.
You have a legal right to compensation when you have been abused. We can help you file a lawsuit against the Catholic diocese where the abuse occurred. First, you should contact our office for a free consultation.
Child Sexual Abuse Occurred in Many Settings
Catholic priests were omnipresent in the lives of children. Abuse occurred everywhere that a Catholic priest had a role in the lives of children.
Millions of children went through the Catholic school system. This is often where some of the worst of the abuse occurred as Catholic clergy were around vulnerable children for the entire school day.
Abuse also occurred inside the church. Families sent their children to priests for counseling, where they would be subjected to repeated sexual abuse. Children who were altar boys were also victimized by Catholic clergy.
There Have Been Numerous Bombshell Reports of Clergy Abuse
The focus on sex abuse in the Catholic church began in 2002 with an in-depth investigation by the Boston Globe. This story broke the news that the Catholic church allowed abuse by one priest to continue for years.
Soon after, scores of disturbing reports about the extent of sexual abuse emerged from practically every diocese throughout the country.
In 2004, a church-commissioned report found that over 4,000 priests were accused of abuse over a 50-year period. This report was shortly after news of the massive coverup emerged, so it significantly underestimated the number of accused priests.
A 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report laid bare exactly how bad the problem was in that state alone, finding that there were over 300 priests in the state who were accused of sexual abuse. The report chronicled over 70 years of abuse.
As dioceses are forced to open their archives in response to lawsuits and investigations, the true extent of what happened is finally being learned. There is still more information that has emerged.
Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Chicago Archdiocese
Chicago was actually one of the first archdiocese in the entire country to attempt to clean up its acts. However, these efforts fail to undo a decades-long history of abuse. In fact, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who took firm steps to confront the abuse crisis was himself accused of sexually abusing a child.
One of the most horrific instances of sexual abuse in the Chicago was the McCormack affair. In this case, a priest was alleged to have repeatedly abused two boys over a four-year span. Even after the allegations were brought to the cardinal's attention, he did not remove McCormack from his position.
McCormack was eventually charged with a crime, but prosecutors were not able to move forward due to a lack of evidence. The Chicago archdiocese made no attempt to cooperate with law enforcement.
In a recent case, Rev. Michael Pfleger was accused of sexual abuse. The Catholic church performed its own investigation, finding no evidence that the priest committed the acts of which he was accused. He was reinstated to his position after being removed during the course of the investigation.
As of this writing, the Chicago Police Department had an open and ongoing investigation. In total, there were three alleged victims who came forward, and their attorneys claim that they handed over a "staggering" amount of evidence.
Pope Francis Has Vowed That Abuse Survivors Can Get Justice
Prior church leaders have been silent or have barely taken any action in the face of mounting accusations of clergy abuse. Even the sainted Pope John Paul was passive and did very little to address the issue.
Pope Benedict also failed to forcefully speak out (he recently apologized for the way that he handled four abuse cases before he was elected pope).
Pope Francis has vowed to end childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The pope was responsible for a change to canon law that redefined sexual abuse and criminalized it. This was the first major change to canon law in roughly 40 years.
Church Authorities Looked the Other Way for Decades
For years, church officials did everything they could to hide the fact that sexual assault and abuse were rampant. When children were able to come forward and complain, they did not get justice in the least. Instead, the Catholic Church did everything that it could to protect itself and try to make the problem go away.
The most common tactic was to transfer the clergy member to a new parish within the diocese. Some clergy abusers resurfaced in other dioceses throughout the country, free to abuse new victims without any knowledge of what they did elsewhere.
The Catholic church did everything but take action. In many cases, the coverup went all the way to the top of the dioceses and archdiocese. Even cardinals did nothing to protect innocent and vulnerable children, opting instead to protect the church above all else.
The Catholic Church Is Liable for Child Sexual Abuse
Generally speaking, the Catholic Church is the same as any other employer when it comes to a personal injury lawsuit.
Any employer is legally responsible for the actions of their employees when they are in the scope of their employment. Therefore, the answer to the question of can you sue the Catholic church is a yes. As long as the priest worked for a diocese, the Catholic church can be sued.
Even though clergy members are not supposed to abuse children as part of their jobs, they do work with children. That is their job. Therefore, sexual abuse that happens on the job is within the scope of employment, and the Catholic church can be liable.
Sexual Abuse Cases Against the Catholic Church
Even though the Catholic church has taken steps to act more forcefully, sex abuse allegations are still being made. Still, most of the allegations being made right now focus on past cases. From July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, there were nearly 4,000 abuse allegations against approximately 2,700 priests. A small amount of these allegations involved current cases.
Abuse survivors can sue the Catholic church in civil court if they fall within the statute of limitations. It does not matter whether the priest accused of the abuse has pleaded guilty to the abuse or is even still alive.
So long as you can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you were abused by someone who worked for the Catholic church, you may be entitled to financial compensation.
Time Limits for Illinois Lawsuits Have Been Expanded
In the past, the statute of limitations stood in the way of many victims who were seeking legal recourse from the Catholic church. Victims had a limited amount of time to sue, oftentimes only a handful of years until after they turned 18.
This was not enough time for people who did not want to come forward at such a young age or did not remember the abuse. Until the time that states began to change the statute of limitations to allow victims an expanded period of time to sue, the Catholic church was able to evade responsibility for decades of shocking and appalling conduct.
In Illinois, the prior law was that the victim had ten years from the time that they turned 18 to file a lawsuit. Then the law was changed to 20 years after the victim turned 18 or 20 years after they discovered (or should have discovered) that they were abused.
Illinois Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
Illinois law allows you to recover for a personal injury that someone else caused you. In Chicago alone, the total of settlements paid has reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Abuse victims are still coming forward to tell their stories and file lawsuits for conduct that occurred when they were a child. If you fall within the statute of limitations, you may file a Catholic church lawsuit.
Clergy Abuse Lawsuit Settlements
By the end of 2021, the Chicago archdiocese had paid over $200 million in settlements of Catholic church lawsuits. This number figures to grow as new plaintiffs are coming forward with abuse allegations.
The settlement amounts in these cases have varied. The range of settlement is usually between $500,000 to $2,000,000. The exact amount that you would receive depends on the damages that you have suffered and the assets available to pay your settlement.
Victims With Repressed Memories Have Legal Recourse
The law has some important relief for some people who suffered abuse more than 20 years ago. While the statute of limitations is a hard and fast rule, there are some exceptions for people who have repressed memories.
Many abuse victims do not learn that they have been abused until later in life. The law does not penalize you and keep you from obtaining compensation when you have repressed memories.
The statute of limitations begins to run from the time that you knew or should have known that you were abused. However, if sexual abuse victims waited too long in the face of obvious evidence that they may have been abused, the statute of limitations may bar a lawsuit.
How to Obtain Financial Compensation for Sexual Abuse
There are two ways that sex abuse victims have tried to obtain financial compensation from the Catholic church. Some victims filed a class action lawsuit against the Catholic church in general. It named the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the defendant.
The lawsuit alleged the following:
- Gross negligence
- Emotional distress
- Wrongful death
Lawsuits were filed against the Catholic church itself under federal racketeering laws. In addition, one lawsuit even named the Holy See as the defendant in a sexual abuse lawsuit.
Most plaintiffs have sued the diocese (or archdiocese) itself where the sexual abuse happened. To date, the Catholic Church in this country (through its individual dioceses) have paid over $3 billion in settlements and verdicts.
Damages for Abuse Suffered From a Catholic Priest
You can receive the following damages when you sue the Catholic church in civil court:
- Medical expenses for all the costs of your treatment (including mental health therapy)
- Pain and suffering for the depression and anxiety that you have experienced
- Lost wages if the abuse has left you unable to work or has reduced the amount that you could possibly earn
- Emotional trauma and distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Some plaintiffs have won punitive damages in a Catholic church lawsuit. These are cases where the diocese has fought the allegations in civil court, and their case reached a jury.
Some juries have been appalled by the behavior of church officials and priests in sexual abuse cases. They have awarded punitive damages against the Catholic church. However, the Catholic church will not pay punitive damages if they settle the case. Given how juries have reacted to these cases, the defendants would usually be wise to settle the cases.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You
A personal injury lawyer can help you in your child sexual abuse lawsuit by doing the following:
- An attorney will perform a thorough investigation of the facts of your case
- They will file a lawsuit on your behalf
- Your attorney may negotiate a settlement of your lawsuit
- If your case goes to trial, your lawyer will work to prove your case in court and argue your civil lawsuit in front of the jury.
Our legal team will speak with you about your case in a calm and compassionate manner. We will learn more about you and identify some legal issues that may affect your Catholic church lawsuit.
Contact an Attorney for a Free Case Evaluation
To learn more about your legal options for a Catholic church lawsuit, call the law firm of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers today at (800) 424-5757 or contact us online. You can schedule a free consultation to understand how you may be able to recover compensation in clergy abuse lawsuits. By taking legal action, you can hold the Catholic church legally responsible for sex abuse.
Our legal team is waiting to hear from you. Plaintiffs do not owe us any legal fees unless they are able to receive compensation.
Call us today to obtain a confidential consultation and begin our attorney client relationship. The whole process can take some time, and it can be difficult, so we recommend reaching out to an experienced attorney as soon as possible.