Sexual abuse by clergy happens at an alarmingly high rate in the United States, with most victims being children. Many religious institutions, mainly the Catholic Church, provide sexual predators with the perfect environment to access the victims. Children are abused in an environment that is supposed to be safe and trustworthy. Clergy sexual abuse involves a high breach of trust. This explains why it is very harmful to the victims. If your child is a victim of clergy sexual abuse, you should not keep quiet for fear of tarnishing the clergy's reputation. The Sex Crimes Attorney can represent you and help you seek compensation in California.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Is Often Concealed

For most of the twentieth century, clergy sexual abuse was not a common topic of discussion in the United States. Most incidents of clergy sexual abuse went unreported even though the crime happened at an alarmingly high rate. Many religious institutions were often quick to conceal cases of clergy abuse. Several instances of clergy sexual abuse emerged in 1980 and the 1990s. However, the churches involved were prompt in providing quick settlements to these cases.

A report released by Boston Globe in 2002 changed everything by revealing many cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in the Boston area. According to this report, a single priest called John J. Geoghan had abused over 130 parishioners. Most of his victims consisted of young boys of school-going age. However, some of the victims were as young as four years old. The abuses occurred in the 1990s and were spread across half a dozen parishes in Boston.

The shocking part is that Cardinal Bernard Law, the then archbishop in Boston, was aware of Geoghan’s conduct but still retained him in the priesthood. Instead of removing Geoghan from the priesthood, the archbishop transferred him to other parishes, where he continued to abuse innocent parishioners. Other clergy members alerted the church about Geoghan’s behavior. However, the church did not take any action. Instead, the church threatened the clergy members with missionary assignments outside the United States.

While conducting their investigation, reporters from Globe interviewed many victims who Geoghan had abused. Many of these victims could not file a lawsuit to seek compensation because the existing laws limited their ability to do this. Many clergy abuse victims in the United States faced the same predicament when taking action against the perpetrators until recently. Many of the victims had suffered sexual abuse when they were children. Therefore, the statute of limitations had already expired. The statute of limitations is the period within which you can bring a lawsuit.

Many states recognized the shortcomings of the existing legislation and revised the statute of limitations. With the revised statute of limitations, the clergy abuse victims can file a lawsuit for abuse when they were children. In addition, any survivor of sexual abuse has an opportunity to file a lawsuit against the abuser.

Sexual Abuse Settlements In Catholic Church

Many survivors of clergy sexual abuse have come forward and are now filing lawsuits against the Catholic Church and individual clergies. Many of these lawsuits end in settlements by the Catholic Church. As outlined by CNN, the Catholic Church made settlements amounting to $200 million between June 2017 and June 2018. As of April 27, 2019, 323 clergy sexual abuse victims received a total of $65 million from the New York Independent Reconciliation compensation program. The beneficiaries of the highest settlements in the United States were child abuse survivors in California.

California was the first state to revise the statute of limitations after the 2002 Boston Globe alarming report. This lift of the statute of limitations gave child sex abuse survivors (most of which were adults) 12 months to file lawsuits. In addition, the survivors were given a chance to file lawsuits irrespective of how long ago the sexual abuse occurred.

The following year after California lifted the statute of limitations, hundreds of victims filed lawsuits against the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Catholic Church ultimately paid a total of $660 million to settle cases for more than 550 plaintiffs who had filed lawsuits. In the San Diego archdiocese, 140 plaintiffs who had filed lawsuits received a settlement of almost $200 from the Catholic Church.

Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse In the Catholic Church

Given the many incidents of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, you cannot help but wonder why the vice is so prevalent in this Church. For a long time, the Catholic Church covered up incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by the priests. Using a tight veil of secrecy, the church kept many cases of abuse away from public discussion or awareness. In addition, the church had immense control over handling sexual abuse allegations, given their hierarchy in communication.

Many church leaders were informed about the sex predators posing as priests in their parishes and church communities. However, instead of addressing the sexual abuses, the church concealed them. The church transferred the abuser to another parish or district, hoping that the allegations would stop. In almost all the cases, the transferred priests continued to abuse parishioners in their new stations. Whenever new sexual abuse allegations came up, the priests were again transferred.

The Catholic Church hierarchy covered sexual abuse against thousands of children for many years. A report issued by the Vatican revealed that Pope John Paul II was aware of the continued sexual abuse but did not do anything about it. The founder of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Father Hans Zollner, was asked why the Catholic Church was home to sex predators. Zollner observed that the abuse was prevalent due to a lack of accountability.

The church had routinized and institutionalized sexual misconduct, and the cycle of tolerating sexual abuse had continued. Sexual abuse by clergies is not only prevalent in the United States. Many other Roman Catholic dioceses in other nations have many cases of clergy sexual abuse. These dioceses include the Holy see, among others.

Many People Find It Hard To Report Clergy Sexual Abuse

When victims file a lawsuit against their religious community, they can expect both a positive and an adverse reaction from the members. Some church members will be very supportive. However, other members will attack the victims. Many religious people have a strong connection with the clergy. They see the clergy as a connection between them and God. Therefore, accusing the clergy of sexual abuse is like attacking these people's faith. Many people do not understand that accusing a clergy of sexual abuse is not indicting their faith. Instead, it is an indictment of a man and a church system that has failed.

However, people have come a long way over the past decade and now understand that reporting clergy sexual abuse is a way of protecting children. Sex crime attorneys protect children by representing victims who have been sexually abused and exposing the sexual perpetrators. Many victims of clergy sexual abuse now understand that when they file a lawsuit, they are going against a church institution run by a man. Filing a lawsuit against clergies who are sex predators has nothing to do with your belief in God. It does not indicate that you no longer believe in God.

Forms of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy abuse occurs whenever a clergy member (minister, pastor, or priest) uses their power to harm, exploit, or sexually abuse a member of the congregation. Clergy abuse or harassment can occur in various ways, including:

  • Sexual touching

  • Engaging a parishioner in unwanted sexual conversation

  • Exerting pressure on a congregation member for sexual attention

  • Other forms of sexual pressure or language

Most clergy-abuse incidents happen within religious institutions. This explains why clergy abuse is often concealed and dealt with internally. As a result, a significant number of priests and other religious figures who face clergy abuse allegations do not encounter law enforcement. For example, as reported by NBC and other related media, around 1700 accused priests and religious figures were concealed by the Roman Catholic Church and did not face charges for their conduct.

In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, other protestant churches, including the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, have had scandals involving clergy abuse. It is suspected that cases of clergy sexual abuse started decades ago, even if the reports of abuse have only grown in recent years. In the last few years, many clergy abuse victims have come forward and shared their stories of childhood abuse seeking compensation.

Increase In Clergy Abuse Lawsuits

Given the increase in clergy abuse lawsuits, many states in the U.S are considering adopting new legislation to expand the legal rights given to clergy abuse victims. Legislation is now considering a new law to allow adult victims subjected to clergy abuse as children to sue the abusers and the institutions that failed to prevent the abuse from happening.

What qualifies as sexual abuse by a clergy member or a priest?

Any action that coerces or pressures a person to engage in a sexual act that they do not want to engage in is a form of abuse. Any conduct which impacts your ability to control your sexual activity or circumstances in which sexual activity occurs qualifies as sexual abuse. Some of the common forms of sexual abuse and assault include the following:

  • Unwanted touching or kissing

  • Sexual contact with a person who cannot give consent — This person could be a child, a mentally impaired person, or someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, thus unable to give consent.

  • Sexual abuse may also involve pressuring or threatening someone with unwanted sexual activity.

  • Attempted rape or rape

Any sexual abuse perpetrated by a member of a religious institution qualifies as clergy sexual abuse. Such perpetrators could be ministers, deacons, pastors, priests, nuns, and other clergy members. In 2019, the NCBI (National Center For Biotechnology Information) conducted a study that revealed the following most common sexual abuse acts:

  • 29.5% of all sexual abuse acts involve inappropriate touching

  • 22.5% of sexual abuse include touching the victim's genitals under clothing

  • 19.1% of the actions involve touching the victim under clothing

  • Unwanted kisses on the mouth constitute 11.4% of all sexual abuse cases

  • 11.4% of sexual abuse involve the verbal approach of the victim with sexual content

  • 11.3% involves touching the victim’s genital area outside their clothing

  • 9.8% of acts of abuse include touching the victim after undressing, without further sexual action

  • 9.2% of the abuse involves telling the victim to undress. Abuse involving bodily contact, mainly known as hands-on abuse, occurs in 80% of all sexual abuse cases.

Victims of Clergy Abuse

The most common victims of the clergy are young children. The mean age for most victims of clergy abuse is around 12 years. Of all the people affected by clergy sexual abuse, more than 2/3 experienced the first abuse when below 13 years. Only approximately 25% of the victims encounter the first abuse incident when they are above 14 years. According to NCBI, most victims of clergy sexual abuse victims are male (62.8%), while females form 34.8%. After a clergy sexual abuse, many victims suffer severe effects, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Mistrust

  • Difficulties with interpersonal contacts

  • Sexual problems

Given that clergy abuse is highly traumatic, it is associated with many forms of long-term psychological and emotional effects. Many victims are abused as children but do not feel comfortable speaking about the incident until much later, usually adults.

Clergy Abuse Is Extremely Common In Religious Institutions

Clergy abuse is more common in churches than we think since most abuse cases go unreported. In the New York state alone, more than 500 priests who were sex predators existed within the Catholic Church. Of these abuses, around 108 were present in the archdiocese of New York as outlined in the Predator Priest Index. Unfortunately, the majority of the abusers are yet to be identified.

The USCCB maintains detailed data of the priests accused of abuse from 1950 to 2010. This data shows that only around 5.9% of priests face accusations of child abuse despite committing the vice. Cumulatively, nearly 400 clergies from the Southern Baptist Church faced allegations of child sexual abuse after assaulting one or several congregation members.

One in two women and one in three men of the parishioners who attended the United Methodist Church had experienced some form of abuse. These revelations portray the alarming picture of clergy sexual abuse. The change in state legislation has allowed many abuse victims to seek justice. Throughout the 194 Catholic dioceses, a total of 4,434 allegations of abuse had been reported by 4,220 victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergies. These reports were made between July 2018 and June 2019

The Rights of Clergy Abuse Victims

If you are a victim of clergy sexual abuse, you have several rights under California law. First, every church member, both children, and adults, are entitled to a safe place of worship. Clergy members strip away the victim's trust when they engage in sexual misconduct. The clergies take away the victim's sense of self-preservation and innocence. Many clergy abuse victims struggle with their faith and spirituality throughout their lives due to the abuse. The breach of trust and the emotional trauma that arises from the abuse make clergy sexual abuse extremely harmful.

If you are a victim of clergy sexual abuse, you could be entitled to considerable compensation. Unfortunately, no payment is enough to heal your psychological and emotional scars. However, the compensation will come in handy in helping you seek closure in the traumatic event. The amount of payment you are entitled to depends on several factors. These factors include the duration and the severity of the sexual abuse. The compensation will also depend on the treatment costs for the injuries you sustained from the sexual abuse. For most clergy sexual abuse victims, the average settlement is around $268,000. Victims who suffer considerable harm acquire higher payments.

If you are a victim of clergy sexual abuse, you can seek compensation for the following:

  • Your past, current, and future medical costs in seeking treatment for the injuries suffered from abuse. Medical costs include mental health counseling, medical treatment, rehabilitation and therapy expenses, psychiatric treatment, and the cost of purchasing prescription medication.

  • You can also seek compensation for lost wages for the period when you missed work due to the emotional trauma resulting from the abuse.

  • Punitive damages are awarded in certain states.

  • You can seek compensation for the emotional pain and suffering you experience because of the abuse.

Importance Of Hiring A Clergy Sexual Abuse Attorney

Many sexual abuse survivors find it highly challenging to report an incidence of abuse. Pursuing a lawsuit against the abuser can be even more challenging for the survivors. Hiring an experienced clergy sexual abuse attorney makes the process of seeking compensation more bearable for the victim. An attorney plays a crucial role in building your case and helping you navigate the complicated state law. The attorney also helps the victim report the abuse to the relevant authorities.

Your attorney will help you pursue a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. Pursuing a civil case allows you to seek financial compensation from the abuser or the church as a financial recompense of your harm. Both the abuser and the religious institution of which the clergy was a member can share the liability.

Filing a civil lawsuit can also enable the victim to seek injunctive relief from the court. This court order directs a specific party to do or stop doing something. For example, in a case of clergy sexual abuse, injunctive relief can require the church or the religious institutions to take particular steps to ensure that the clergy does not commit further abuse. One action could include relieving the clergy of their duties.

Child sexual abuse attorneys are committed to helping the victims of sexual abuse rebuild their lives and begin the healing process. They are efficient, effective, and vigorous in representing their clients. An attorney will continuously advocate for a victim while treating them with respect and integrity. When choosing an attorney, ensure that you go for one who had handled clergy sexual abuse cases before and obtained compensation for the victims.

Statute Of Limitations For Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

While filing a civil lawsuit against the abuser, you will be subject to specific statutes of limitations. A statute of limitation is a time restriction for filing. An attorney will help you navigate all the legal challenges you might face and ensure that you file the lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations. Failing to file a case within the statute of limitations could make you lose your right to compensation.

  • Different states in the U.S. have expansive timelines for filing child sexual abuse cases. For example, in Connecticut, the statute of limitations for filing child abuse cases is thirty years from when the victim turned eighteen. If it is evident that the abuser engaged in unlawful concealment of the alleged sexual misconduct, the court might extend the statute of limitations.

There is no statute of limitations in filing child sexual abuse cases in some jurisdictions. This means that the victim can file a lawsuit against the abuser and the church irrespective of when the abuse occurred. One such jurisdiction is Rhode Island.

In recent years, California, alongside other states like New Jersey and New York, adjusted its statute of limitations. These adjustments allowed prolonged periods for initiating child sexual abuse cases. For example, California revised the statute of limitations for child abuse cases to 22 years from when the victim turns 18 years. The state laws also allow victims who are forty years and above to file lawsuits for sexual abuse cases that happened in their childhood.

The legal language pertaining to different timelines for filing civil lawsuits can be challenging to understand. You should consult an experienced clergy sexual abuse attorney to ensure that you are filing the claim promptly.

Find A Clergy Sexual Abuse Attorney Near Me

If a clergy abused you, you should contact an experienced attorney to help you seek compensation. A lawyer who handles clergy sexual abuse cases will advise and help you understand your legal options. At the Sex Crimes Attorney, we are committed to helping victims of abuse to seek compensation throughout California. Call us at 888-666-8480 and speak to one of our attorneys.