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Clergy Abuse Lawyer

Damages in Childhood Sexual Abuse Claims

Clergy abuse survivors have been impacted in many different aspects of their life. The law allows victims of sexual 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 many cases and jurisdictions, punitive damages may be eligible as well.

Examples of these damages may include:

Each of the sexual abuse lawyers in our law firm is committed to maximizing the recovery for each clergy sexual abuse victim. Call us for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.

Clergy Abuse Lawyer

A Sexual Abuse Lawyer Can Help Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors Get Justice 

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 child sexual abuse, but how very high levels of the church institutions looked the other way while the clergy sex abuse happened. 

Now, the Church is being called to account legally for its gross errors in failing to deal with this childhood sexual abuse epidemic as it was happening by the accused priests. States are making it easier to take legal action against the Church, causing inundation of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits. 

We represent clergy abuse survivors across the United States. Contact our legal team today for your no-obligation consultation - or learn more about the abuse laws in each state by following the links below.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyers

Sexual Assault and Abuse is Pervasive in the Catholic Church

After some of the initial sexual molestation and sexual exploitation reports 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 clergy sexual 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 clergy abuse victims in the state, and there were likely to be thousands of additional victims who had not yet come forward.

There have been reported episodes of clergy sexual abuse involving:

  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Attempted rape
  • Serial rape
  • Gang rape
  • Incest
  • Indecent actions, including stimulation, humiliation, and sexual satisfaction
  • Extortion requires 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

Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer

Legal Theories Under Which the Catholic Church Can Be Liable for Abuse

Many survivors may 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 and sexual misconduct 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 hiring and placing priests by failing to perform the proper background checks and giving adequate scrutiny to those around children.
  • The Church failed to act on credibly accused clergy of childhood sexual abuse 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 and abuse within the Church, 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 by survivors of clergy abuse.

The indictments involving clergy abuse victims have reached the highest level of the Church as many senior priests are alleged to have actively participated in a coverup of clergy 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.

Clergy Abuse Attorneys

Damages in Childhood Sexual Abuse Claims

Clergy abuse survivors have been impacted in many different aspects of their life. The law allows victims of sexual 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 many cases and jurisdictions, punitive damages may be eligible as well.

Examples of these damages may include:

Each of the sexual abuse lawyers in our law firm is committed to maximizing the recovery for each clergy sexual abuse victim. Call us for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.

Clergy Abuse Attorney

The Statute of Limitations in Clergy Sexual Abuse Civil Legal Actions

The time for bringing a civil lawsuit is governed by a time constraint known as the statute of limitations. Lawsuits must be filed within this timeframe, or the sexual abuse claim will be forever barred.

The statute of limitations in a clergy sexual abuse case varies drastically according to the jurisdiction of the abuse.

Recognizing that many victims of sexual abuse may be repressing their abuse, some states have extended the statute to allow a victim to bring civil legal action 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 us today so we can evaluate your situation.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Attorneys

What to Do If My Clergy Sexual Abuse Case Happened Years Ago

As the reports of widespread sexual abuse began to pour in after increased media attention, states began to realize that their current laws restricted clergy sexual abuse survivors' rights and have now begun to change their laws. What was unjust was that a victim would have had to file a lawsuit within a short time after the sexual 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 when they were younger. Until the past two decades, many people who experienced sexual abuse were not believed, so they did not come forward.

Recognizing that, states began to either waive or lengthen the statutes of limitation in clergy sexual 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 sexual 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 forty or five years after discovering previous sexual 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 clergy abuse survivors a seven-year window in which the time limitations are temporarily waived to allow them to file lawsuits. However, the waiver will expire at a certain point, 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.

What Would Happen Should a Diocese Declare 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, a child sex abuse victim can still receive financial compensation in their abuse case.

Clergy sexual abuse lawsuits that have already been brought against the Church and have been settled and paid are not affected. However, the bankruptcy process does impact civil 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 civil 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.

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 in your legal action.

Proving a Clergy Abuse Case

You will prove that you were sexually abused 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. The abuse must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. 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 priests who committed sexual abuse crimes are now dead, and they cannot testify.

Much of the proof in an abuse case 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.

Clergy Abuse Lawyers

Suing for Abuse at the Hands of the Roman Catholic Church

The diocese where the sexual 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. Even if the abuse happened within a particular parish, the diocese would have had the ultimate responsibility for supervising the priest.

In most clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, it would make sense to sue the diocese instead of the individual priest who committed the clergy abuse. First of all, many of the Catholic priests died many years ago.

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 clergy abuse survivors 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 an abuse case 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 abuse case has yet to be tried. So, the appropriate answer to this question is a "we will see."

Clergy Sexual Abuse Attorney

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 survivors of sexual abuse lawsuit settlements is now approximately $4 billion, and the number is expected to grow substantially.

Here are some examples of recent clergy abuse survivor lawsuits:

  • In 1997, the Diocese of Dallas became the first diocese to make a compensation fund 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. The survivors of sexual abuse each 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 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 clergy abuse. The defendant unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the case on limitations issues that are no longer considered in many states that have waived 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 religious leader abuse cases.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Clergy Sexual Abuse FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions raised by people who have been victims of abuse by a member of the clergy. Should you have additional questions, we encourage you to contact our law firm, and we can address additional questions or concerns you have regarding your potential legal action.

Our clergy sexual abuse attorneys have assisted many clergy sex abuse survivors in seeking justice and looking forward to doing the same for you.

How Many Catholic Priests Have Been Accused of Child Sex 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 Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims?

By 2019, the Church had paid over $4 billion in negotiated settlements, jury awards, and legal fees to clergy abuse and sexual misconduct survivors.

Many of these abuse case victims were young adults, children, and infants at the time the attack occurred. BishopAccountability.com documents the payouts to tens of thousands of child 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 assaulting children sexually 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 child sexual abuse survivors to aid the healing process. The organization’s founding President, Barbara Blaine, started the group to educate and support clergy sexual abuse victims.

The SNAP clergy abuse program has spotlighted many child sex abuse scandals with information available on the SNAP network.

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 sexual abuse claim. Many clergy abuse claims get resolved out-of-court without the need to file a lawsuit.

However, even in filed clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, the chances of you directly facing your abuser is relatively slim as many of the accused clergies are deceased or are in jail.

What if My Abuser is in Jail?

Thankfully, law enforcement officials have aggressively prosecuted many episodes of sexual 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 clergy abuse lawyer can issue a subpoena and force them to appear for a deposition or court proceedings.

Clergy Abuse Lawsuit

Were You Sexually Abused by Someone Associated with the Catholic Church? Hire a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer Now

No matter how long ago your sexual abuse occurred, as you can see from above, you might still be able to seek accountability for your childhood sexual abuse in the form of financial compensation. Throughout the decades of sexual abuse, the Church cannot escape liability for its culpability level that thousands of priests subjected survivors of clergy abuse.

Each clergy abuse lawyer at Rosenfeld Personal Injury Lawyers is committed to your case. We recognize that clergy abuse survivors face many issues when it comes to holding their abusers accountable. We will tactfully work with you to discuss your legal options, recognizing that this will likely cause trauma for you; it can even take decades for the healing process.

We commit to handling civil claims with the sensitivity they deserve when representing clergy abuse survivors. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial free, confidential case evaluation.

Contact our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation. It is a no-obligation consultation for a confidential case evaluation.

All discussions with our law firm remain confidential through an attorney-client relationship.

Our clergy sexual abuse lawyers follow social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus).

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