Thousands. Going back as far as the 1960s, official investigations have revealed that hundreds of clergy members in the Catholic Church have committed sexual abuse against thousands of children and that the Catholic Church itself covered up many of these cases.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a clergy member of the Roman Catholic Church, you are not alone. Many survivors of sexual abuse have turned to legal action to hold the church accountable and get the help they needed. You can do the same. If you have any questions, please contact us. Our lawyers care and here to help.
The public first became aware of widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in 2002, when journalists from the Boston Globe unveiled a massive coverup scheme in the local diocese. The journalists discovered that sexual abuse committed by priests was routinely covered up. Cardinals and bishops in the Catholic Church would often take priests who had been accused of sexual abuse and, rather than remove them from their office, move them to a new parish. Shuffling the priests into new locations allowed sexual abuse of many more unsuspecting victims. The reporting by the Boston Globe put a spotlight on sex abuse within the Catholic Church, which has not left it since. It also showed survivors that they were not alone and others suffered with them.
In 2018, an archbishop released an eleven page open letter, in which he alleged that the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church reached the highest levels, including another cardinal, and that the Pope himself had known and done nothing except quietly restrict the cardinal’s privileges.
More dioceses continue to come forward and reveal the names of clergy who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. But a more troubling trend has emerged. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church will simply defrock (take away status of) priests who are credibly accused of sexual abuse and then take no further action to keep track of them. An Associated Press investigation found that 1,700 priests in the United States who were removed for allegations of sexual abuse continue to operate in the U.S. as teachers, counselors, nurses, volunteers, and in other positions with access to and interaction with children, without any monitoring by the Catholic Church.
By far one of the most influential incidents involving this crisis has been the 2018 report of the Pennsylvania grand jury. Over the course of nearly two years, the grand jury investigated allegations of sexual abuse within the Pennsylvania dioceses and found seventy years’ worth of sexual abuse that the church had hidden. The investigation revealed that 300 priests had molested over 1,000 identifiable child victims, with many thousands more who could not be identified. The grand jury report is almost 900 pages long. The grand jury stated that due to the coverups, only a tiny percentage of the abusers could be prosecuted, with the rest of the cases being too old. Due to the inability of the grand jury to hold many of the abusers responsible for their past crimes, it decided to publish the report.
The report detailed how the dioceses would keep all of the sexual abuse complaints in a “secret archive” to avoid a scandal. FBI agents testified that the dioceses employed specific strategies to avoid scandals, such as using words like “boundary issues” instead of “rape,” and telling parishioners that a priest is on sick leave or providing some other excuse if he was under investigation. The grand jury’s recommended course of action was opening up a “civil window” to allow victims of sexual abuse to sue the diocese responsible for the abuse—a recommendation that many states have since followed, including California.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, know that hundreds of others who were victimized are taking stands to hold the church accountable. Usually, a statute of limitations sets out the deadline a person has to file a lawsuit. If they file after the deadline, then their case will be considered barred, which means they cannot recover anything.
Recently, however, many states have opened their statutes of limitations for lawsuits concerning childhood sexual abuse, so even if it was decades since you or a loved one suffered the abuse, it may not be too late to file.
California is one of the states temporarily opening up its statute of limitations. The last time California did this for victims of sexual abuse was in 2003, and it resulted in nearly 1,000 lawsuits, many against the Catholic Church. The church paid out hundreds of millions to survivors as a result of these cases.
The new law, referred to as AB 218, allows many victims who were too old to sue, or past the deadline of the statute of limitations, to now file a lawsuit. It also includes a provision allowing triple damages if the employer of the abuser covered up the abuse. This means that the potential recovery could be very high.
In response to this law, just six days after it passed, the Catholic Church established a new victim compensation fund. This fund offers money to survivors of sexual abuse if they agree to refrain from suing the Catholic Church. But groups such as the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have urged survivors to consider their options, because accepting a settlement from the compensation fund would mean that the church’s wrongdoing is not exposed in open court. Settlements can also come with strings attached, such as agreeing not to talk to the media about the case and generally ensuring that the church is not subject to more bad publicity.
Notably, the church only created the compensation fund after the bill passed—so it appears to be a method to avoid litigation. This would allow the church to settle cases for potentially less than the survivors would get at trial, while also preventing the church from having to release many documents and have the misdoings of the clergy exposed to the public eye.Posted in: Uncategorized
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