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Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

In the eyes of the law, we’re all equal. As common as this statement may sound, it’s true because the law holds everyone accountable for their actions, including clergies.

Clergy sexual abuse has been going on for a while. 

Still, it has been grossly underreported or covered by the church. 

However, things changed when their victims started to speak up more. 

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Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

In the eyes of the law, we’re all equal. As common as this statement may sound, it’s true because the law holds everyone accountable for their actions, including clergies.

Clergy sexual abuse has been going on for a while. 

Still, it has been grossly underreported or covered by the church. 

However, things changed when their victims started to speak up more. 

As it stands, over 6000 priests in the catholic church have been accused with proof of child sexual abuse. These claims have resulted in myriads of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits. 

The survivors of such abuse receive compensation in the form of settlements. The Catholic church has spent over $3 billion to settle clergy abuse survivors.

Therefore, how can one go about filing a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit? What are the requirements? Is there a timeframe within which it must be filed? 

Answers to this question and more will be found in this article. Let’s get right into it!

Overview of Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

Like a plague, sexual abuse of children and vulnerable members of society has eaten deep into the church’s fabric. Unfortunately, this horrible incident wasn’t laid bare till the mid-1980s. 

Since then, claims of clergy sexual abuse have been springing up from every corner.

In a bid to intervene, the Catholic church assured the populace that they’ve put measures in place to handle sexual abuse claims. 

Notable among them include keeping accused priests off ministerial duties while church delegates investigate the issue.

However, critics are skeptical about this said process, citing they aren’t convinced of significant adherence. Interestingly, there’s a good cause to doubt the church because clergy sexual abuse matters are handled with extreme secrecy.

For instance, a grand jury in Pennsylvania put a report out to the public in 2018. This report presented multiple abuse cases and subsequent cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses it investigated. 

While most of these allegations occurred a long time ago, some were from the past decade.

Besides the report from the grand jury, the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) located at Georgetown University also made a similar report. 

This report mentioned a ‘playbook’ alleged to be used by church leaders to tackle clergy sexual abuse before 2002.

CARA and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, gathered information on clergy sexual abuse in the US from 1950. They found that allegations have dropped appreciably since 2000. Nevertheless, there was over 300 sexual abuse by priests from 2000 to 2017.

Long-term Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse leaves children and vulnerable people scarred throughout life. This horrible experience has a lasting effect on their physical and mental health. 

These impacts often require management by experts with their attending costs. 

Depression is the most common psychological effect in the long run. Other worthy mentions include:

  • Anxiety and eating disorders
  • Personality disorder
  • Somatic disorders
  • PTSD
  • Trouble with intimacy and relationship

Besides the psychological effects, some studies have found a positive link between sexual abuse and some physical health problems, including:

  • Gastrointestinal health issues
  • Reproductive health issues
  • Pain
  • Obesity
  • Cardiopulmonary disease symptoms

Survivors of clergy sexual abuse can get compensation to help cover for their past treatments and future ones. However, they’ll need a revered lawyer for the process.

Reasons for Growing Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Clergy sexual abuse and the claims that follow them have been on a steady rise. 

This recent occurrence is due to the following reasons:

  • Reports of Older Cases

According to studies, survivors of sexual abuse often take decades to report the incidence. 

This delay is because the abuse occurred when they were still minors. Thus, survivors may wait till they’re adults before speaking up. 

Most cases reported recently stemmed from incidents that happened years ago.

  • Increase in the Legal Options of Survivors

The court in most states across the US has increased its statute of limitation. This policy has made it possible for survivors of sexual abuse from decades back to file a suit against their abusers. 

Also, it’s now possible to sue the church if they hid the case or attempted to do so.

The Catholic Church's Move to Curtail Clergy Sexual Abuse

With cases of clergy sexual abuse rearing up at every corner of the country, you may wonder what the church is doing to fight this evil. What moves are they making to help survivors of clergy sexual abuse get justice?

The Catholic church claims to have set up policies and practices that’ll be followed strictly to combat sexual abuse. An aspect of it is, taking accused clergymen off ministerial duties. 

Also, an investigatory panel of church leaders looks into the matter. 

In February 2019, Pope Francis announced that he’d called on Bishops worldwide for a meeting. During this gathering, they discussed measures to prevent abuse of children and vulnerable individuals by clergies in the Catholic church.

Also, while on the brink of bankruptcy, most dioceses have set out a trust for compensating survivors of such abuse. However, there’s a clause attached to receiving the compensation. It precludes survivors from pursuing further legal action against their abusers in the future.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Compensation

Victims of clergy sexual abuse who file lawsuits could either collect compensation or take the matter to court if still within the statute of limitation. 

In the United States, the Catholic church has paid over $3 billion to sexual abuse victims. Between June 2017 and June 2018, the church paid out settlements worth $30 million to survivors.

The compensation each victim gets largely depends on the state. 

For example, when the New York compensation fund was open, survivors received a total of $200 million. The compensation came down to roughly $200,000 for each victim. 

However, in Pennsylvania, there’s no fixed amount or compensation limit for each survivor. 

Instead, claim administrators will review each case and determine appropriate compensation.

Factors considered when deciding the compensation to award victims include:

  • Age of the victim
  • Degree of harm done to the victim
  • Extent of the abuse
  • Overall credibility of the claim
  • Documents verifying counselling, medical and prescription expenditure 

Who to Sue for Clergy Sexual Abuse

In terms of who to sue, specific options exist. You can sue the clergy member responsible for your abuse. If they’re dead, you may sue their state or the diocese where the abuse occurred.

The church leader or the church itself can be named as defendants. This step considers the role they played in covering up clergy sexual abuse. 

Interestingly, the Vatican has been named a defendant in some sexual abuse cases involving catholic priests.

You may also wonder if you can sue when a diocese is bankrupt. Although you may not be able to sue at this point, you can get compensation by filing a claim with the bankruptcy court

To bring legal action against a clergy member for sexual abuse depends on the following factors:

  • When the abuse took place
  • The place the abuse happened
  • The prevailing statute of limitation

To figure out who to sue in a clergy sexual abuse case, you’ll need an experienced legal practitioner. 

How to File a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Every clergy sexual abuse survivor needs a seasoned lawyer. Your attorney or legal team will inundate you with adequate clergy sexual abuse lawsuit information. They will walk you through the process, determine your eligibility, gather vital documents and build a rock-solid case. 

Your lawyer will decide the right person or body to sue and negotiate a worthwhile compensation for you. 

Furthermore, your legal team will also determine the right state to file the suit. Usually, most clergy abuse lawsuits take place in the state where the dioceses are located.

Interestingly, most law firms offer a free consultation to their clients and don’t receive payment upfront. You pay when you win.

Constraints to Filing Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

  1. In times past, the church failed victims sexually abused by clergy members. 

    Instead of taking up their complaints, church leaders did next to nothing while these victims looked on with despair as their abusers walked freely. 

    As a result, most victims chose silence over reporting their claims and filing a lawsuit.

    As the discontent towards the church’s approach grew, starting from the 1980s, survivors turned to public law enforcement to get justice. However, these cases met resistance from the statute of limitations in their various states.

    Statute of Limitation

    The statute of limitation applies to impending lawsuits. It specifies the timeline within which a case has validity and beyond which it may not receive attention from the court. US states have varying statutes of limitation for each crime and legal action.

    The statute of limitation that has been in place has put reasonable constraints on survivors’ ability to file suits against their abusers in the church. 

    Recently, most states have been revising their statute of limitation. They’ve also created a window for older cases that were hindered by the previous time frame to report and file claims against their clergy abusers. 

Clergy Sexual Abuse Reports and Laws Across States in the US

Across US states, clergy sexual abuse cases abound, and these states have laws in place to cater to victims of such abusers. 

These regulations, despite opposition from the church, go through regular updates. 

The goal? Encourage more victims to step forward with their cases, so justice can be done.

California Clergy Sexual Abuse

California adjusted its statute of limitation. Previously, victims of clergy sexual abuse couldn’t file a suit once they were above 26 years old or after 3 years from the time they discovered the harms of the abuse.

For justice to prevail, the state now allows victims to file claims till they’re 40 years old and 5 years from the period they receive a psychological or physical injury diagnosis. 

Also, the new change has opened a 3-year look-back window for expired cases under the old law to file their lawsuits.

When California opened a 1-year look-back window in 2003, Catholic dioceses in the state paid about $1.2 billion in compensation to victims. 

Therefore, there’s a possibility that more lawsuits will be recorded with these legal adjustments. 

The church’s opposition to these laws hinges on a looming tendency of dioceses to go bankrupt. To avoid a risk to their finances, 6 dioceses in California opened a trust fund to settle present and future victims.

New York Clergy Sexual Abuse

Following a decade-long battle, New York is in the league of states with a modified statute of limitation. This follows the Child Victims Act of New York signing into law in February 2019. 

From that moment till the 1st January 2020, over 1300 sexual abuse cases have been filed under the act. 

Clergy sexual abuse accounts for hundreds of these cases.

The new act extended the timeframe to file child sexual abuse from 23 to 55 years for civil cases and 28 years for criminal trials. It also opened a look-back window in August 2019. This window extended to August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and over 1300 cases have been filed within its first year.

Under this new law, clergy abuse survivors in New York will need top-notch lawyers to file lawsuits against the priests or church to get compensation. 

However, most New York Catholic dioceses filed for bankruptcy due to the statute of limitations extension. 

Pennsylvania Clergy Sexual Abuse

In 2018, a grand jury found that over 1000 persons were victims of clergy sexual abuse by Catholic priests or church leaders in the state. 

They also found that the church has a hand covering these crimes against humanity. 

Further investigation revealed that most abusers can’t be prosecuted due to the statute of limitation. 

To hide clergy sexual abuse cases, the Catholic church in Pennsylvania took the following steps:

  • Disallowing the use of the word “rape” and permitting only “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
  • Discouraging investigation by optimally trained personnel.
  • Sending accused clergy members to psychiatric facilities run by the church to evaluate if they’re pedophiles even when there’s a glaring sexual abuse of a minor.
  • Providing no explanation to the congregation for pulling a priest out of the church.
  • Providing accused priests with housing and living expenses.
  • Transferring such priests to parishes where their sordid past is unknown. 

The state of Pennsylvania has been working for years to extend the statute of limitation. 

It wasn’t until November 2019 that they were able to overturn the existing statute of limitation. 

Now survivors of abuse have more time to file lawsuits against abusers. Furthermore, they also took out the time constraint for the police so they could file criminal charges anytime. 

What Now?

Clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable persons has eaten into the church’s fabric for years. 

Unfortunately, the church prioritized the protection of the perpetrators in their service over getting justice for the victims.

Distrust in the church grew, and victims sought secular processes for justice. This action led to a rising clergy sexual abuse lawsuit in the country. Now, legal action can be brought against priests or churches who have a hand in the sexual abuse of members of the society.

Survivors of clergy sexual abuse receive compensation intended to defray some of the costs associated with the toll the abuse took on them. 

Over time, the catholic church has paid over $3 billion in settlements to sexual abuse victims. 

The individual compensation varies based on the state and the abuse’s impact on the survivor.

Filing clergy abuse lawsuits require the services of an experienced legal team. This team will analyze your case and verify your eligibility based on the statute of limitations in the state. 

Also, they’ll assist in gathering vital information, filing the case and negotiating for worthwhile compensation. However, payment isn’t upfront and solely depends on winning the suit.

What’s more? 

States are extending the statute of limitations so those past victims can get justice and due compensation. With this new system in place, all survivors of clergy sexual abuse now have an enabling ground to pursue justice for themselves and their loved ones. 

Hopefully, this is enough encouragement to find justice for yourself and your loved ones.  

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