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New York Clergy Sex Abuse – A Legal Breakdown

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As of 2017, 77.4 million Roman Catholic members in the United States accounted for roughly 22 percent of the US population. Catholics look to their clergy, particularly their parish priest, for spiritual and emotional guidance, love, protection, and support. Unfortunately, particularly in the past twenty years, it has come to light that certain pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church are preying on and sexually abusing young victims. Many survivors have come forward in recent years, taking legal action and showing the alleged abuse is widespread in the Roman Catholic Church.

Although it’s likely been going on for centuries, it was not until the Boston Globe published an explosive story in 2002 that the full extent of the horrors of priest sexual abuse came to the forefront, and people started to understand the gravity of the situation. The Boston Globe reported that, according to a study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 4,450 of the 110,000 priests (4%) who served as clergy for the Roman Catholic Church between 1950 and 2002 faced or are currently facing accusations of child sexual abuse. Yet, in 2002, top Vatican official Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger inaccurately predicted that only 1% percent of priests fell into this category.

How common is child sex abuse in New York?

Sexual abuse, which generally refers to any unwanted sexual conduct pattern over a duration of time, is a horrific crime with devastating and long-lasting effects on victims. Child sexual abuse is prevalent in New York and throughout the US. Some estimates show that between 28 and 33 percent of all women and 12 to 18 percent of all men are victims of child sexual abuse.

What new rights do survivors of child sex abuse in churches have under New York law?

A civil lawsuit for sexual abuse is a type of personal injury lawsuit. Each state has a deadline to file for personal injury lawsuits, known as the statute of limitations. Most states require that personal injury victims initiate their civil claims between 2 to 5 years of the date the injury occurred. Sexual abuse and sexual assault injury claims are different, though, because victims of sexual abuse often don’t process the reality of their abuse and injury until years or even decades after it happens. For example, studies show the average age that a victim of child sexual abuse reports their abuse is 52 years old.

In recognizing the unique nature of sex abuse claims, numerous states have passed laws allowing survivors of sexual abuse more time to bring civil lawsuits. For example, new York passed a law in 2019, giving more time to survivors otherwise barred under previous law restrictions from initiating civil claims.

If you were the victim of sexual abuse by clergy in New York, it’s essential to contact a New York sex abuse attorney as soon as possible. Attorneys with experience in sex abuse cases understand the current deadlines to bring your sex abuse claims, and we can help you seek fair compensation via a civil action.

A New York sex abuse attorney can offer insight and compassion while guiding you through the litigation process. Your attorney can also gather vital evidence to help support and solidify your case and communicate with third parties, including collecting and preparing testimonies from witnesses and experts. Your attorney will assess your claim’s worth and identify the appropriate parties to sue.

Finally, your attorney can file a civil lawsuit on your behalf. Individuals abused by New York dioceses are still filing lawsuits today. The time limit has not yet run out, and you still have time to seek justice against your abuser and the religious institution that protected them and covered up the abuse.

What is New York's Child Victims Act (CVA)?

Under the New York Child Victims Act, sexual abuse survivors have until August 13, 2021, to file a civil lawsuit to recover damages for sexual abuse. The CVA provides a one-year span known as a “look-back window” for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file new lawsuits no matter how long ago the abuse happened. The new law also provides that moving forward, survivors of child sexual abuse may file a civil case until the age of 55, up from the previous age of 23.

Additionally, the new law enables prosecutors to bring criminal charges against a sexual abuser until the victim reaches the age of 28. The prior law set the cut-off date at 23 years old. If a person suffered abuse under the age of 11, there is now no deadline for the government to criminally charge the sexual abuser.

The deadline of August 13, 2021, is rapidly approaching, so survivors of sexual abuse need to contact a sex abuse attorney as soon as possible to protect their legal rights. Contact the compassionate and determined lawyers at Herman Law today so you can file your claim before the deadline expires.

Can I sue the Catholic Church in New York under the Child Victims Act?

Yes. In a civil lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse in New York, you can bring a claim against the person who abused you and the organization or institution that employed the abuser and allowed the abuse to happen or helped to cover it up. Entities, including churches, sports clubs, schools, daycares, foster care, and other organizations, might share liability for the abuse you endured if you can show that leadership knew or should have known about the abuse but failed to take action to stop it. 

Investigations into the Roman Catholic Church revealed widespread and systematic decades-long cover-ups of abusive priests throughout the US. As a result, thousands of victims recovered monetary damages from the Church by naming it as a defendant in civil lawsuits.

Additionally, the New York Child Victims Act provides a window of time for you to sue even if your claim was otherwise previously barred per earlier state statutes. A sexual abuse attorney can help you file all the necessary documents to file your claim and receive fair compensation for your injuries and suffering.

Why is sexual abuse so common in the Catholic Church?

Sexual predators thrive in places where they’re the most likely to find their prey. For child sexual predators, these places are often in churches and other religious orders, schools, sports clubs, and organizations with high populations of vulnerable children. 

Furthermore, more than 90% of sexual abuse victims know their offenders. Most sex abusers, especially those who abuse children, are family members or someone in a position of trust or authority, including parents, uncles, aunts, teachers, clergy, sports coaches, etc. Unfortunately, this trustworthy role in the child’s life is often the very thing that allows sexual abuse to happen and go unreported.

Although child sexual abuse happens in many different institutions, it’s especially prevalent in the Catholic Church. There are several reasons for this. Sometimes, child molesters join the priesthood specifically to be near children. The Catholic Church has also created an environment of secrecy concerning personnel matters to maintain its reputation, enabling perpetrators to continue harming children without consequences. 

As child sexual abuse increased in the Catholic Church in the 1970s and 1980s, the Church kept its personnel files private, despite their exposure’s ability to protect children. When a victim of child sexual abuse would report the wrongdoing to church leaders, rather than contacting authorities or removing the priest from their position of power, the Church would simply transfer the priest to a new parish, where they were free to find and prey on new victims.

Additionally, when child victims and their families spoke up, the Church would often shame them into silence or tell them the priests would undergo treatment or counseling without following through. Church officials claimed to do their own internal investigation as to the alleged child sexual abuse at the hands of the accused abusers or clergy members, but these supposed probes and inquiries rarely resulted in punishments.

Many worshipers are also very reticent to criticize or question the behavior of religious authority, so many victims never speak out about the abuse. When victims of abuse finally started filing lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s, churches settled out of court, demanding victims sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs). 

According to BishopAccountability.org, a Catholic Church watchdog organization, the Catholic Church paid out about $750 million for sexual abuse claims between 1980 and 2002. Lawsuits against the Catholic Church revealed that, in many instances, personnel records of abusive priests simply went missing. As the ongoing scandal unfolded, church leaders started destroying decades-old records of widespread abuse.

A recent lawsuit demonstrates how the Catholic Church served as the perfect hunting ground for predator priests for many years. In June 2021, 28 former Boy Scouts filed a civil lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and the Archdiocese of New York. The civil suit claimed that, for almost half a century, the Staten Island Council of the Boy Scouts and the Archdiocese of New York operated as “headhunters” in systematically choosing and grooming boys for sexual abuse by priests and scout leaders. The lawsuit alleges that the abuse occurred from 1949 to 1995 and included touching, fondling, and even sodomy.

With minimal legal recourse and a lack of transparency from religious leaders on seeking justice, victims lived in silence for a long time, allowing the abuse to continue under the radar. 

What kind of compensation can a New York clergy sex abuse attorney help me receive in a sexual abuse lawsuit?

A New York clergy sex abuse attorney can help you receive both economic and non-economic damages for your injuries and suffering due to sexual abuse. Economic damages include:

  • Direct costs incurred from the abuse (e.g., medical expenses for physical injuries, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, present and future therapy expenses, and treatment or rehabilitation center costs)
  • Lost wages due to missed work as a result of healing or emotional trauma
  • Any other costs that flowed directly from the effects of the abuse

New York law also recognizes that sexual abuse is a horrific crime, causing emotional pain and suffering that can sometimes last a lifetime, thereby often affording victims extra compensation for their ongoing mental anguish. Sexual abuse severely damages and sometimes destroys a person’s ability to feel joy and love. When a child suffers sexual abuse, injuries go far beyond what can be seen by the naked eye. 

Non-physical injuries from child sexual abuse can include:

  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Problems with sustaining healthy relationships
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Other emotional trauma

A New York sex abuse attorney knows what damages you’re entitled to recover compensation for and will fight for a fair settlement.

New York Clergy Lawsuits

Since the New York Child Victims Act’s passing on August 14, 2019, survivors filed almost 3,000 child sexual abuse lawsuits involving the Catholic Church. Although each diocese in New York has faced numerous allegations of sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of New York likely faces most of those accusations.

In 2018 the archdiocese released the names of 120 priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse. One of its former priests, Edward Pipala, was convicted in federal prison and sentenced to seven years for taking at least 11 boys across state lines for sex. Pipala faces accusations of molesting as many as 50 boys throughout his career. 

Another infamous sex abuser priest, Cardinal McCarrick, was defrocked after years of sexually abusing scores of boys and young priests. Although survivors filing for relief and justice allege most incidences of sexual abuse by priests occurred between the 1970s and 1990s, select victims raised at least two credible claims of clergy sexual abuse happening in the archdiocese since 2002.

At least a dozen lawsuits named former Monsignor John Paddack as a perpetrator of child sexual abuse, claiming that Paddack abused numerous students while holding various administrative positions at Monsignor Farrell High School in Oakwood and St. Joseph By-the-Sea High School in Huguenot. A prior student of Paddack’s from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx filed a lawsuit in June 2021, alleging that Paddack sexually abused the student on numerous occasions, including fondling the student’s penis and rubbing Paddack’s penis against the student’s legs. Paddack forcefully resigned from his clergy assignment in 2019.

The lawsuit also claims that another priest, Brother Christopher Keogan, also sexually abused the victim. Keogan forcefully resigned from his position as principal of the high school after the discovery of pornography on his work computer.

The lawsuit claims that Cardinal Hayes High School and the archdiocese should have known about the abuse by both Paddack and Keogan. The victim, who was a teenager at the time of the abuse, claims that he’s struggled throughout his life with severe mental health issues because of the abuse. Both Paddack and Keogan denied the allegations against them.

Former Catholic Priest Rudy Tremaroli is facing recent allegations of sexual abuse, accused of harming numerous victims between the 1970s and 1990s.

In another case, former Priest Michael A. Carroll faced allegations of sexual abuse in the early 2000s. Ordained in 1985, Carroll’s accusers say he had inappropriate conduct with teenage boys and young men while serving in various New York dioceses. The Church placed Carroll on leave in 2002.

In 2019, plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against the Archdiocese of New York on behalf of victims sexually abused by clergy in the archdiocese who waived their legal rights by participating in a compensation fund set up by the Church, called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. According to the class-action lawsuit, the program’s creation had the sole purpose of eliminating victims’ claims before the New York Child Victims Act became law. 

The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese tricked child sex abuse victims into participating in the program and then paid out compensation that was woefully lower than the amount they should’ve received. The class-action lawsuit seeks to void the releases signed by victims so they can file civil lawsuits under the New York Child Victims Act.

New York Catholic Church Sex Abuse Lawsuit Settlements

The Catholic Church entered into several large settlements for sexual abuse happening at its dioceses in New York. For instance, in September 2018, the Diocese of Brooklyn settled a $27.5 million sexual abuse claim against a volunteer after-school program teacher. The lawsuit contained allegations the teacher abused four children between 2003 and 2009. Even though the Catholic Church argued it shouldn’t be liable because the abuse occurred in the abuser’s personal apartment, the court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, finding that church clergy staff knew about the abuse and failed to stop it.

In another case, in 2017, the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn paid out a $1.8 million settlement to six victims of sexual abuse by priests in the dioceses. The lawsuit named eight priests responsible for child sex abuse.

How have clergy lawsuits affected New York Catholic Churches?

Within the past few years, Roman Catholic dioceses across the country filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing the financial effects of COVID-19 and sexual abuse settlements as the two primary reasons for the bankruptcies. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy doesn’t result in the Church closing. Instead, it reorganizes and pays its current debtors but continues to operate. 

Critics of the Church bankruptcy filings claim that some dioceses chose to file bankruptcy to avoid paying fair compensation to thousands of victims of sexual abuse who finally come forward due to state laws extending the deadlines for filing civil lawsuits.

As of June 2020, three New York dioceses—the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, the Diocese of Rochester, and the Diocese of Syracuse—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo decided to file for bankruptcy in February 2020, after being hit with 250 sex abuse lawsuits—the most largely sued diocese in New York—and $50 and $100 million in liability. The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo’s court filing indicates that it owes $3.5 million, with 19 of its 20 top creditors being victims of child sexual abuse who filed civil lawsuits against the Church. The Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy in September 2020.

The most significant effect of the bankruptcies of the Church on child sexual abuse victims is that the court must suspend all pending civil lawsuits following the bankruptcy filings. The dioceses’ assets are then frozen, and the bankruptcy court typically sets a deadline for victims to come forward in the bankruptcy proceedings to make their claims for compensation. The bankruptcy court then determines how much money each claimant should receive. If victims of child sexual abuse don’t file within the deadline set by the bankruptcy court, they face a permanent bar after that point from bringing their claims.

Bankruptcy filings by churches allow victims of child sexual abuse to avoid having to file a civil lawsuit. On the other hand, victims may potentially receive less money in a bankruptcy proceeding than they would through a civil lawsuit. 

Additionally, bankruptcy filings may have the effect of preventing sexual abuse victims from gaining access to personnel files about abusive priests. Unlike in a civil lawsuit, where the court may order a diocese to release sensitive personnel documents about priests, a bankruptcy court may not require similar disclosures. 

Some bankruptcy courts, though, needed the Catholic Church to disclose their personnel files of priests accused of sexual abuse as part of bankruptcy settlements. Nevertheless, bankruptcy filings by church dioceses have recently received criticism as a means for the Church to hide assets from victims of sexual abuse.

New York Clergy Sex Abuse Compensation Programs

In place of civil lawsuits, the New York Catholic Church implemented so-called clergy compensation programs meant to compensate victims of sexual abuse outside of court. In 2018, the New York Catholic Church implemented a program called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims. The program’s stated intention was to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Critics of the program, though, say its creation was merely in anticipation of the passage of the New York Child Victims Act to make child victims of sexual abuse settle for lower amounts of compensation than they would be entitled to if they filed a civil lawsuit. Victims of sexual abuse settling claims under the Church’s compensation program were required to waive their right to bring a civil lawsuit, barring them from ever seeking additional recompense for their injuries and suffering.

List of Credibly Accused Clergy Child Sex Abusers

The Catholic Church released the names of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse in each diocese. The list includes thousands of clergy members identified by all of the New York dioceses. The list likely doesn’t contain a complete recording of all abusers within the Church, as many instances of abuse go unreported. The following list includes all the names of New York clergy who faced or are currently facing credible accusations of child sexual abuse: https://archny.org/ministries-and-offices/child-protection/list/.

In 2002, the Catholic Bishops of the United States created the Charter on the Protection of Children and Young People. According to the archdiocese’s website, no priest ordained after creating the Charter has been accused of sexually abusing a minor. The website also indicates that about 75% of credibly accused clergy achieved ordainment between 1908 and 1969, with most ordained in the 1950s and 1960s and most of the alleged sexual abuse occurring in the 1970s and 1980s.

How can a New York Clergy Sex Abuse lawyer help me?

If you suffered sexual abuse by clergy in New York, you need a New York sex abuse attorney to help you file a lawsuit against your abuser and the Church, which may have known about the abuse but refused to do anything to stop it. An attorney with experience with sexual abuse survivors will approach your case, first and foremost, with compassion and understanding. Your attorney can gather relevant evidence in your case to establish a solid claim and communicate with third parties, including witnesses to the abuse and bankruptcy courts.

A sex abuse attorney knows the latest “look-back” laws concerning sexual abuse in your state and can advise you about important deadlines to file your civil lawsuit. Finally, your attorney can file your civil lawsuit on your behalf in the proper court against all persons or institutions sharing liability for your harm.

The attorneys at Herman Law have significant experience with sexual abuse lawsuits, particularly against abusive priests and the churches that enable their abuse. At Herman Law, we understand the devastating and enduring effects of sexual abuse, and we strive to serve as trusted confidantes and powerful advocates for our clients. We will listen to your story and assess the worth of your claim to get you the fair compensation you deserve after what you suffered.

If you hire Herman Law to represent you, as part of the initial process lasting the first 30 days of our representation, we will develop your case by offering legal advice, discussing your legal strategy, and then implementing that strategy. Our office has its own Special Investigative Unit in charge of researching your claim, assessing the value of your claim, and devising and executing a plan for you to obtain fair compensation. 

Our attorneys and staff are passionate about what we do, and we will guide you through the entire legal process as you seek to find justice for the abuse that was not your fault and that you didn’t deserve.

Can I pursue criminal charges against my abuser?

Yes. In addition to filing a civil lawsuit against your abuser, you can also pursue criminal charges. To initiate the criminal process against the perpetrator of child sex abuse, you need to report the crime to local law enforcement officials. Law enforcement will investigate your claim and determine whether to bring criminal charges against your abuser. The state initiates all criminal cases against offenders.

The state must prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator committed the crime. If the person is found guilty of child sex abuse, they’ll likely serve a prison sentence. A criminal action is different from a civil lawsuit in that you can’t recover money damages from your perpetrator in criminal court. Also, in civil proceedings, you can sue both the abuser and the organization that allowed the abuse. It’s often in your best interest to pursue both criminal charges and civil remediation against your abuser.

What do I do if I experienced child sexual abuse in a New York Catholic Church?

If you are or someone you love suffered sexual abuse by New York clergy, you should contact a New York sex abuse attorney as soon as possible. You must file your lawsuit before New York’s new statute of limitations deadline expires. For victims whose claims are otherwise barred, the deadline is August 13, 2021, so you need to act quickly. 

Contact Herman Law today for a free case evaluation to learn about your legal rights.