Have you or your child been the victim of clergy abuse? Child sex abuse isn’t just common within the Catholic Church; it happens within all faiths and in all denominations. Hundreds of thousands of children across the U.S. have been sexually assaulted by clergy. Many have been further victimized by cover-ups, harassment, and laws that have prevented them from seeking justice as adults.
You may be entitled to hold your abuser and the institution that protected them accountable—even if your abuse occurred decades ago. Many states are now opening look-back windows and extending statutes of limitations. Contact Rosen Injury Lawyers today to find out how we can help you bring your accuser to justice.
How Rosen Injury Lawyers Can Help if You Were the Victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse
Children have suffered clergy abuse in religious institutions for generations. Unfortunately, the abuse has not been isolated. And institutions have gone to great lengths to cover up allegations and protect abusers.
If you have suffered clergy sex abuse and want to step forward and hold the clergyperson accountable, a clergy abuse lawyer can help. Rosen Injury Lawyers is an award-winning personal injury law firm. We exclusively handle mass tort cases in which many victims have suffered similar types of abuse. We know exactly what it takes to gather evidence and build a strong case.
Here is what we can do for you:
- Offer sound guidance, support, and legal advice
- Conduct a thorough investigation into your case and listen to your story
- Uncover evidence documenting your abuse and the steps the institution took (or failed to take) to address it
- Work with top experts to build the strongest case for your damages
- Explore if your case qualifies for multidistrict litigation (MDL) or a mass tort
- Negotiate on your behalf to seek a fair settlement offer
Contact Rosen Injury Lawyers today for a free consultation with a clergy abuse lawyer ready to fight for you. We will help you seek justice and compensation for the life-long trauma you have endured.
What is Clergy Abuse?
Clergy abuse refers to sexual abuse of children by clergy, church volunteers, or church staff. The term “clergy” can refer to deacons, bishops, monsignors, nuns (sisters) and brothers, priests, pastors, cardinals, and more. The term “clergy” is used for simplicity to group together all types of church officials, formal leaders, and ordained church members.
Sex abuse refers to any sexual behavior involving a child and may involve:
- Masturbating in front of a child
- The abuser having a child touch themselves or the abuser
- Child pornography
- Exposing a child to pornography
- Forcible penetration
- Forcible rape
- Sexual assault
Victims of clergy abuse are often told not to report their abuse. The church may encourage the victim or family not to speak with law enforcement. They may even be encouraged to forgive the abuser.
The Lasting Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Victims of child sex abuse are often left with long-lasting psychological and physical issues.
Research has found many long-term effects of child sex abuse, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorders
- Somatic or sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Intimacy and relationship issues
Studies have also indicated survivors of sex abuse are at an increased risk of many health problems. This includes chronic pain, gynecological or reproductive health problems, gastrointestinal issues, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
It is not just the abuse itself that can leave a lasting impact; a victim can also suffer trauma due to how trusted adults handle the allegations. Churches have inexplicably encouraged many victims to forgive their abusers or even apologize to them for the accusations. Many have been encouraged not to report their abuse and keep it to themselves. Some have even been encouraged to have an abortion after being impregnated by an abusive church official.
For some, the pain of not being believed or watching their abusers continue to work with children is the greatest trauma of all.
Clergy Abuse Can Happen in Any Faith or Denomination
The Catholic Church has become notorious for sex abuse scandals—misconduct that goes back centuries and spans the globe. However, clergy from other religious institutions have also faced allegations of abuse.
Sadly, clergy from any faith may commit sexual abuse of children, including:
- The Catholic Church
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Church of Scientology
- Protestant and Evangelical Denominations
- Southern Baptist
- United Methodist
- Orthodox Judaism
Much of the focus on clergy sex abuse is on the Catholic Church. However, it’s crucial to remember that you may still have a case against any religious institution that allowed your abuse to happen or protected your abuser.
What is My Clergy Abuse Case Worth?
The value of a clergy sexual abuse case depends on many factors. Every case must be evaluated on its own.
If you have a case against a Catholic diocese that has already set up a settlement fund, your claim will be evaluated by the claim administrators. Your compensation will be awarded as they consider appropriate.
Claims are typically based on:
- Overall credibility
- Verifiable documentation of financial costs like counseling
- The severity of the abuse
- The victim’s age
- Extent of the harm suffered
With the Pennsylvania compensation funds for dioceses in Greensburg, Erie, Allentown, Pittsburgh, and Scranton, for instance, there is no limit on what you can recover. The church has not capped the aggregate total for the fund either.
The New York compensation fund for Catholic dioceses, which is now closed for new claims, paid out $200 million or $200,000 per victim.
If you pursue compensation through a fund, you cannot appeal the award or file a lawsuit later.
If you are eligible for a compensation fund, you can choose to forgo this option and file a sexual abuse lawsuit. However, you must initiate your lawsuit within the statute of limitations. Some states are creating look-back periods or extending their statute of limitations. This can allow you to file a lawsuit for abuse that occurred many years ago. In Pennsylvania, however, no such laws have been passed yet.
If your state has expanded its statute of limitations for sex abuse, or you are still otherwise within the statute of limitations, a personal injury lawsuit can potentially offer you more than you might receive through a compensation fund. Since 2003, the average child sex abuse case has had an average payout of $350,000. In the three largest Catholic states, payouts have averaged more than $1 million.
The best way to determine what your case may be worth is contacting a clergy sex abuse lawyer at Rosen Injury Lawyers for a free consultation.
How Common is Clergy Sex Abuse?
A 1993 study estimated that there were more than 100,000 survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church alone in the United States. However, this number may very well underestimate the number of survivors.
The first wave of the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal in the U.S. came to light in the 2000s when bishops created the Dallas Charter. This was a baseline for child abuse prevention and abuse reporting.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston faced a large abuse scandal in 2002. A Boston Globe investigation found that the Boston archdiocese had quietly settled sex abuse claims against 70 of its priests. A single priest abused at least 130 victims. The investigation revealed the lengths the church went to cover up abuse and led to criminal charges against five priests.
This investigation was a spark that brought public awareness to the scale of abuse within the Catholic Church and the lengths it went to hide it. Since then, abuse scandals have continued to rock the Catholic church, but they are not alone.
The following statistics, studies, and sex abuse scandals reveal the true scope of clergy abuse:
- According to a CNN report, about 8,600 abuse survivors have recovered more than $3.8 billion in settlements from the Church in recent years.
- The John Jay study analyzed sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Church between 1950 and 2002. There were 11,000 allegations made against almost 4,400 priests in the U.S. This accounted for 4% of the priests active during that time period.
- 95% of Catholic dioceses and almost 60% of religious communities in the U.S. were affected by sexual abuse over the 52-year period studied by the John Jay study.
- The 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report named over 300 abusive priests who abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses.
- Within the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston alone, a total of 248 Catholic priests were accused of abusing over 800 children.
- A 2019 Houston Chronicle investigation uncovered 700 sex abuse victims over 20 years within the Southern Baptist church. Texas, by far, had the greatest number of church leaders and volunteers who were credibly accused. Many victims were urged to get abortions or forgive the abusers. Southern Baptist leaders have rejected proposed reforms.
Even these investigations and reports do not reveal the full scale of sex abuse within the religious community. Abuse remains hidden and unreported in many communities.
How Did Clergy Abuse Remain Hidden for So Long?
Sex abuse in religious organizations has always happened. It happens anywhere abusers have access to children. However, widespread abuse within churches and religious institutions has remained hidden from the public eye for centuries.
Religious institutions have often covered up allegations of abuse, failed to properly supervise clergy with children, and allowed abuse to continue. In some cases, a misguided desire to forgive led by church teachings makes officials hide abuse or allow a priest to escape punishment. Church hierarchy may fail to recognize the severity of the problem. Often, the desire to simply avoid a scandal is at the heart of a cover-up.
Here are some ways in which abuse has been covered up or allowed to continue.
Shunning & Religious Rules Within the Haredi Jewish Community
It is not only the Catholic Church that struggles with sex abuse. Within the Haredi Jewish (or ultra-Orthodox) community in New York City, sex abuse allegations have drawn public scrutiny.
Rabbis and other leaders in the community have failed to report abuse allegations to police. Some have even intimidated witnesses and encouraged the community to shun accusers. Abused children who are shunned have been barred from attending school. Flyers have been distributed to attack abuse victims and advocates.
Many in the community believe that it is a religious crime to report a Jew to non-Jewish authorities.
Systemic Cover-up Within the Catholic Church
Clergy abuse occurs within all denominations and faiths and is frequently hidden by church officials. However, the scale of abuse within the Catholic Church and the systemic and global cover-up the church implemented may not be rivaled.
Reports suggest sex abuse within the church has been covered up by officials dating back to the 11th century. Clergy at all levels of the church have used many tactics to protect abusive priests and prevent the public from becoming aware of allegations.
These tactics have included:
- Intentionally minimizing abuse by using language like “inappropriate touching” instead of “sexual molestation” or “rape.”
- Persuading children not to report the abuse they suffered
- Assigning untrained priests to investigate accusations of abuse against colleagues
- Quietly defrocking abusive priests without informing law enforcement or communities
- Transferring priests to new communities after abuse allegations
- Lying to communities about the reason an abusive priest left by claiming medical reasons
- Requiring some young victims to apologize to their abusers for “lying” and attempting to sully the priest’s reputation
- “Pontifical secrecy” laws in the church were used to hide abuse
One of many systems within the church that hid abuse was “pontifical secrecy” laws. It was claimed that these secrecy laws were designed to protect abuse victims. However, they helped hide abuse. The secrecy rule prevented church officials, alleged victims, witnesses to abuse, and other church members from speaking about allegations or reporting to authorities. A church member who violated the secrecy rule was punished with excommunication.
In 2019, Pope Francis finally lifted the pontifical secrecy rule for sex abuse cases. This should prevent church officials from using it as an excuse for failing to report allegations and help investigators gather evidence against abusers.
Sex abuse within the Catholic Church has been covered up around the world. Many heavily Catholic countries have experienced sex abuse scandals in recent years.
Credibly Accused Clergy May Continue to Work Around Children
Shockingly, a 2019 investigation by the Associated Press found almost 1,700 priests and clergy who had faced credible accusations of sexual abuse were unsupervised and working with children. The investigation uncovered hundreds of accused clergy who had left the church and are working as counselors, teachers, coaches, and volunteers in youth groups. Many have been foster parents.
This investigation came after Roman Catholic dioceses published the names of clergy it considers credibly accused. It allowed a peek into what happened to clergy who were not criminally charged but were removed from the church or left voluntarily.
At the time of the investigation, religious organizations and dioceses had released the names of 5,100 clergy members. The investigation centered on 2,000 who were still alive.
Hundreds of the living clergy members still had positions of authority and trust, often with access to children. At least 160 volunteered or worked in churches, including overseas Catholic dioceses.
The investigation found many cases in which the priests continued to abuse children.
Clergy members rarely faced criminal prosecution, and religious organizations carefully transferred them without notifying the community. As a result, they fell between the cracks.
State licensing boards and background checks aren’t designed to look into a former priest’s background. In many states, loopholes allow former clergy to maintain jobs, including with children, despite a history of public allegations.
What Compensation Can Victims of Clergy Abuse Recover?
A civil lawsuit for clergy sex abuse allows survivors to recover economic damages and non-economic damages for their injuries.
You may seek financial compensation for:
- Medical expenses, including past and future bills
- Lost wages and reduced earning capacity
- Personal losses, including distress, anguish, trauma, mental torment, pain and suffering, and reduced quality of life
You may also be entitled to punitive damages that punish the defendant for their egregious behavior.
At Rosen Injury Lawyers, we are dedicated to helping survivors of clergy sex abuse seek the justice they deserve. We will help you pursue full compensation for all the harm you suffered, even though it can never erase your pain.
Injunctive Relief After Clergy Sexual Abuse
Survivors of sexual abuse may also seek injunctive relief in some cases. This is a court order that directs someone to take certain actions. Some survivors have received injunctions that direct religious institutions to take specific steps to prevent further abuse.
How Long Do I Have to File a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?
For decades, victims of clergy abuse have been unable to pursue their abusers due to strict statutes of limitations. However, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws for sex abuse claims suspending or extending deadlines to file abuse cases. In eight states, look-back windows give victims a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit regardless of when the abuse happened.
You might be eligible to file a clergy sex abuse lawsuit even if your abuse happened decades ago. However, it depends on the laws in your state. If your state has created a look-back period, it may only last one year. When the window closes again, you will not be eligible to file a case.
Statutes of limitations, look-back windows, and other deadlines vary by state. It’s crucial to contact an experienced clergy sex abuse lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. Your time may be very limited!
Contact a Clergy Abuse Lawyer for a Free Consultation
Have you suffered sexual abuse by a priest or other clergy member? Call Rosen Injury Lawyers today for a free case review with a clergy abuse lawyer. We will help you explore your legal options to bring them to justice and seek the fair compensation you deserve.