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Sexual Abuse

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Sexual abuse by clergy occurs at devastatingly high rates. Religious institutions provide sexual predators with a unique opportunity to access and groom victims in an environment intended to be trustworthy and safe. This breach of trust is one reason why clergy sexual abuse is particularly harmful to child victims.

Clergy Sex Abuse In The United States

Clergy sexual abuse was not a widespread topic of discussion in the United States for most of the twentieth century. While the egregious act happens at alarming rates, most clergy sexual abuse goes unreported and religious institutions help conceal it.

In the 1980s and 1990s, several reports surfaced ending in quick settlement by churches involved, but a landmark investigation by the Boston Globe changed that. In 2002, the Boston Globe issued a shocking report documenting decades-long sexual abuse perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests in the greater Boston area. According to the Globe’s investigation, former Priest John J. Geoghan abused over 130 parishioners, most of whom were school-age boys as young as four years old, across a half-dozen Boston parishes in the 1990s.

Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston at the time, knew of Geoghan’s behavior and did not remove him from the priesthood. Instead, Cardinal Law transferred Geoghan to other parishes, where he continued his abuse for years. When other clergy members alerted church leaders of Geoghan’s deviant behavior, they received threats of missionary assignments positioned outside the US.

As part of the investigation, the Globe reporters interviewed many of Geoghan’s victims. In many cases, existing laws limited the ability of these individuals to seek justice by filing a lawsuit against their abuser. Up until recently, victims of clergy sexual abuse across the US faced similar legal challenges. Because many of these individuals suffered abuse when they were children, the time to bring a lawsuit, known as the “statute of limitations,” had already expired when they decided to pursue legal action.

Recognizing the shortcomings of current legislation, certain states revised their statute of limitations time restraints to allow victims to assert legal claims for sexual abuse dating back to when they were children. Survivors now have an opportunity to seek the justice they deserve.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Case
Settlements

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Many survivors of clergy sexual abuse are now pursuing legal action against their abusers, and when permitted against the Catholic Church, and lawsuits are frequently ending in settlements. According to CNN, the Catholic Church spent around $200 million in legal settlements from June 2017 to June 2018. As of April 27th, 2019, the New York Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program awarded a total of $65 million to 323 sexual abuse victims.

Some of the nation’s largest settlements in sexual abuse cases went to clergy child sex abuse survivors in California. Following the Boston Globe’s shocking 2002 report, California became the first state to temporarily lift its statute of limitations, giving adult victims of childhood sexual abuse 12 months to file lawsuits, no matter how long ago their abuse took place.

During the following year, hundreds of people filed lawsuits against the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Catholic Church ultimately settled cases for over 550 plaintiffs, paying out a total of $660 million. Similarly, in San Diego, 140 plaintiffs who sued the archdiocese of San Diego for clergy abuse received nearly $200 million from the Catholic Church.

During the following year, hundreds of people filed lawsuits against the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Catholic Church ultimately settled cases for over 550 plaintiffs, paying out a total of $660 million. Similarly, in San Diego, 140 plaintiffs who sued the archdiocese of San Diego for clergy abuse received nearly $200 million from the Catholic Church.

Why Is Child Sexual Abuse So Prevalent In The
Catholic Church?

For many years, the Catholic Church and many church authorities sought to cover up child sexual abuse at the hands of priests. A tight veil of secrecy kept allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church out of public discussions and awareness. Because religious institutions have their own hierarchies, they had near-complete control over handling abuse allegations.

Church leaders were typically made aware of pedophile priests in their parishes and church communities. Instead of addressing the abuses, they swept them under the rug. A common strategy was simply transferring the accused priest to another parish or district, hoping the allegations would dissipate. In nearly all cases, the priests continued to sexually abuse clergy members at their new parishes, and with each newly reported allegation, another reassignment occurred.
Church leaders never filed criminal complaints with local law enforcement nor took any tangible steps to hold these individuals accountable for their actions. If another priest or clergy member reported clergy misconduct, these individuals were frequently threatened with transfers to overseas missionary programs if they did not keep quiet.

The Church’s long-accepted and employed strategy of covering up clergy abuse worked well because many victims and their families could be intimidated or shamed into silence. As documented by the Boston Globe, abusers frequently targeted victims from vulnerable families, whom the abuser and those covering for them could easily manipulate into remaining silent for fear of retaliation or mistreatment in the local church community.
If reports of clergy abuse managed to slip out from under the Catholic Church’s wall of secrecy, the cases settled quickly, and in return, the Church demanded non-disclosure agreements.

The Church allowed the clergy members to remain despite their sexual misconduct, leading many to promote within the Church hierarchy to bishop, monsignor, or cardinal positions. The cycle of secrecy thus continued.
In 2002, the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. Local districts took charge of the implementation of prevention programs resulting in inconsistent and flawed policies. As a result, clergy sexual abuse continues to be pervasive within the Catholic Church.

Why Is Child Sexual Abuse So Prevalent In The
Catholic Church?

For many years, the Catholic Church and many church authorities sought to cover up child sexual abuse at the hands of priests. A tight veil of secrecy kept allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church out of public discussions and awareness. Because religious institutions have their own hierarchies, they had near-complete control over handling abuse allegations.

Church leaders were typically made aware of pedophile priests in their parishes and church communities. Instead of addressing the abuses, they swept them under the rug. A common strategy was simply transferring the accused priest to another parish or district, hoping the allegations would dissipate. In nearly all cases, the priests continued to sexually abuse clergy members at their new parishes, and with each newly reported allegation, another reassignment occurred.
Church leaders never filed criminal complaints with local law enforcement nor took any tangible steps to hold these individuals accountable for their actions. If another priest or clergy member reported clergy misconduct, these individuals were frequently threatened with transfers to overseas missionary programs if they did not keep quiet.

The Church’s long-accepted and employed strategy of covering up clergy abuse worked well because many victims and their families could be intimidated or shamed into silence. As documented by the Boston Globe, abusers frequently targeted victims from vulnerable families, whom the abuser and those covering for them could easily manipulate into remaining silent for fear of retaliation or mistreatment in the local church community.
If reports of clergy abuse managed to slip out from under the Catholic Church’s wall of secrecy, the cases settled quickly, and in return, the Church demanded non-disclosure agreements.

The Church allowed the clergy members to remain despite their sexual misconduct, leading many to promote within the Church hierarchy to bishop, monsignor, or cardinal positions. The cycle of secrecy thus continued.
In 2002, the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. Local districts took charge of the implementation of prevention programs resulting in inconsistent and flawed policies. As a result, clergy sexual abuse continues to be pervasive within the Catholic Church.

Why Has The Catholic Church Tolerated And
Covered Up Child Sexual Abuse?

The Catholic Church hierarchy systematically covered up years of abuse against thousands of child victims. The Vatican reported that Pope John Paul II knew about the abuse but failed to do anything about it.

When Father Hans Zollner, the founder of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was asked why the Catholic Church has become a home for criminal priests and deceivers, Father Zollner observed that there was no accountability. Sexual misconduct has been institutionalized and routinized by the Church, and the cycle of toleration has continued.

The United States is not the sole nation responsible for the sexual abuse of children at the hands of the Church. The Holy See and many other Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the world have also needed to address this global issue.

Clergy Sex Abuse In The United States

The Catholic Church hierarchy systematically covered up years of abuse against thousands of child victims. The Vatican reported that Pope John Paul II knew about the abuse but failed to do anything about it.

When Father Hans Zollner, the founder of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was asked why the Catholic Church has become a home for criminal priests and deceivers, Father Zollner observed that there was no accountability. Sexual misconduct has been institutionalized and routinized by the Church, and the cycle of toleration has continued.

The United States is not the sole nation responsible for the sexual abuse of children at the hands of the Church. The Holy See and many other Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the world have also needed to address this global issue.

If you or your loved one were victims of clergy abuse, you’re entitled to justice and support.

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Victims can expect the response from their religious community when they file a lawsuit against their religious institution that there will be some people who are very supportive and there’ll be some people where there might be some backlash. And it’s a very complicated issue because what happens with clergy abuse cases is that people who are religious, they have a connection, they find a connection between their clergy and God. And so when someone is accusing their clergy of sexual abuse, it’s very hard for other people to understand that it’s not an indictment of their belief in God, that it’s an indictment of a man, an institution that is fallible.

Now, we’ve come a long way in this country, I think over the last decade or so. And that people really have that understanding, but not everybody. But the most important thing that I remind people of is that what we do is protect children. We protect children by exposing predators and representing victims who have been sexually abused. And so, the most important thing when it comes to the clergy, I think for victims, is to remember that they’re going after an institution that’s run by man. And it does not have anything to do with their belief in God.

What Is Clergy Abuse?

Clergy abuse is when a clergy member (e.g., priest, pastor, or minister) uses their power to exploit, harm, or sexually abuse a congregation member. Clergy sexual abuse usually involves harassment in the form of:

Unwanted sexual conversation
Sexual touching
Pressure for sexual attention
Other forms of sexual language or pressure

Clergy abuse happens within religious organizations. Many instances of clergy sexual abuse are thereby dealt with internally and frequently covered up.

According to NBC and the Associated Press, nearly 1,700 credibly accused priests and other religious figures flew under the radar with the help of leaders in the Roman Catholic Church with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement.

In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, protestant denominations with sexual abuse issues, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church, have also been embroiled in clergy sexual abuse scandals.

Clergy sexual abuse has been happening for decades, but reports of the abuse have grown exponentially in recent years. Many survivors who are the alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse have courageously come forward to share the stories of their childhood abuse, finally seeking justice.

Is clergy abuse illegal?

States can prosecute perpetrators via criminal court cases while victims of abuse can file separate civil lawsuits. Given the recent wave of victims reporting clergy abuse, some jurisdictions are considering new legislation to expand legal rights afforded to victims of child sexual abuse.

According to the Associated Press, Pennsylvania legislators are currently considering new legislation to allow victims who are now adults but previously sexually abused as children to sue the perpetrators and the institutions that failed to prevent the abuse that happened many years ago.

What’s considered sexual abuse by a priest or clergy member?

Some examples of sexual assault and abuse include:

1. Unwanted kissing or touching
2. Sexual contact with someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol and unable to give consent
3. Threatening or pressuring someone into unwanted sexual activity
4. Rape or attempted rape

Clergy sexual abuse involves abuse perpetrated by a member of a religious institution, including priests, ministers, deacons, nuns, pastors, or other clergy members.

According to a 2019 study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the most common sexually abusive acts include:

• Inappropriate touching: 29.5%
• Touching of the genital area under clothing: 22.5%
• Touching of persons under clothing: 19.1%
• Kisses on the mouth: 11.4%
• Verbal approach of affected persons with sexual content: 11.4%
• Touching of the primary genital area of affected persons outside of clothing: 11.3%
• Touching of affected persons after undressing without further sexual activities: 9.8%
• Asking affected persons to undress: 9.2%

“Hands-on” abuse (i.e., abuse involving bodily contact) occurs in more than 80% of cases.

Who is the typical clergy abuse victim?

Many victims of clergy sexual abuse suffer severe health and social injuries, including:

• Anxiety
• Depression
• Mistrust
• Sexual problems
• Difficulties with interpersonal contact

Clergy abuse is incredibly traumatic and associated with many long-term emotional and psychological effects, so many survivors are hesitant to report their abuse. Survivors abused as children rarely feel comfortable speaking out until many years after their abuse occurs.

How common is clergy sexual abuse in religious institutions?

Those numbers represent a small fraction of total abusers, yet to be identified:

• The USCCB keeps data on accused priests from 1950-2008 and shows that only 5.9% of priests faced credible accusations of child sexual abuse.
• In the Southern Baptist Church, nearly 400 church leaders faced accusations of sexually assaulting one or more parishioners.
• Of the parishioners who attended the United Methodist Church, 1 in 2 women and 1 and 3 men experienced sexual harassment.

These studies, including the John Jay Report, certainly paint a grim picture of clergy sexual abuse. Still, the number of reported allegations has risen tremendously in recent years, mainly due to changes to state legislation, giving child sexual abuse survivors a chance to seek justice.

According to the USCCB, between July 1st, 2018, and June 30th, 2019, 4,434 allegations were reported by 4,220 clergy child sexual abuse victims throughout 194 Catholic dioceses and eparchies. These Catholic Diocese Sex Scandals represent reports of abuse between an alleged victim and their alleged accuser, whether the abuse was a single incident or a series of incidents over a period of time from 1940 to the present.

Source: Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, 2019 Annual Report, Findings and Recommendations, Appendix 1, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As compared to the same period in 2018, the number of allegations increased substantially. The USCCB observes that this increase is partially due to lawsuits, compensation programs, and bankruptcies, which accounted for 37% of the newly reported allegations. Out of the 4,434 allegations reported in the USCCB audit study, 37 involved current year minors, including 12 males, 19 females, and six unknown victims.

Source: Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, 2019 Annual Report, Findings and Recommendations, Appendix 1, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The number of priests, deacons, and other ministers accused totaled 2,982. Of the total number of alleged abusers identified, 1,052 or 35% were a part of a previous audit period.

Source: Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, 2019 Annual Report, Findings and Recommendations, Appendix 1, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Various states, such as Pennsylvania, are considering changes to existing legislation, coupled with the current Me-Too campaigns. So, these reporting numbers are likely to continue to increase as more survivors come forward to report the abuse they suffered at the hands of religious leaders.

What Are My Rights In A Clergy Sexual Abuse Case?

Members of a church community have a right to a safe space to worship and practice their faith. When clergy members engage in sexual misconduct, they strip away their victims’ trust, innocence, and sense of self-preservation. Many survivors of clergy abuse struggle with their spirituality and faith as a direct result of their abuse. The breach of trust that occurs is what makes clergy sexual abuse incredibly harmful to victims.

Many victims in clergy sexual abuse cases may be entitled to substantial compensation. While no amount of financial recovery can heal a survivor’s emotional and psychological scars, it can help the individual seek some closure after their traumatic incident. The amount of compensation an individual can receive is dependent on several factors, including the severity and duration of the abuse and the treatment costs for resulting injuries.

The average settlement for clergy sex abuse victims is approximately $268,000. Some survivors have acquired more considerable sums due to their extensive harm. For example, each victim in the Los Angeles Archdiocese 2007 settlement received approximately $1.3 million. In a 2019 Colorado case, the Catholic Church paid out over $7.3 million to more than 70 people sexually abused in childhood by priests in Colorado parishes. In Montclair, New Jersey, five clergy sexual abuse victims recently settled with the Catholic Church for $400,000.

In clergy sexual abuse cases, survivors of abuse can seek compensation for:

  • Past and future medical expenses incurred as a result of the abuse, including medical treatment, mental health counseling and psychiatric treatment, rehabilitation and therapy costs, and prescription medications
  • Emotional pain and suffering resulting from the abuse
  • Lost wages from missed work due to the emotional distress caused by the abuse
  • Punitive damages (in certain states)

Why Hire A Clergy Sex Abuse Attorney?

Reporting an incident of sexual abuse can be incredibly challenging for survivors. Pursuing a legal case can present additional obstacles. A clergy sex abuse attorney can help make the process more bearable for you.

Your attorney can play an instrumental role in building your case, navigating complex state law, and filing your personal injury lawsuit. Also, your clergy sex abuse attorney can assist you in reporting your abuse incident to the appropriate authorities. Per the USCCB 2019 report, attorneys started over 30% (1,470 out of 4,434) of reports of clergy sexual abuse by helping victims file claims.

Criminal vs. Civil Court for Clergy Cases

Another option is for victims to pursue criminal charges against their abusers. A person convicted of sex crimes, specifically against a child, must register as a sex offender. Some abusers face up to life in prison, depending on the level of the abuse.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse can pursue a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. In civil actions, victims can seek compensation from their abusers as financial recompense for their harm. In certain jurisdictions, including New York, the religious institution that the abuser was a member of can share liability.

As part of a civil case, a victim can also seek “injunctive relief,” or a court order directing a party to do or refrain from doing something. Specifically, injunctive relief in clergy sex abuse cases can involve directing churches or other religious organizations to take tangible steps to prevent future abuse cases.

Both civil and criminal clergy sex abuse cases are subject to various statutes of limitations or time restrictions for filing. Clergy sex abuse lawyers at Herman Law can help navigate these legal challenges for you, making sure to initiate your lawsuits timely and accurately.

Our knowledgeable team can help you understand complex legal issues, state civil and criminal laws, and potential remedies (monetary or otherwise) available to you. Our expert legal staff can also assist you by determining the type of compensation you may be entitled to and the best legal avenue to take to pursue the justice you deserve.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Statute of
Limitations

Clergy sex abuse claims are subject to various statutory deadlines or time restrictions to initiate a lawsuit known as statutes of limitations. Statutes of limitations vary state by state and can differ depending on the type of claim asserted.

Many states have adopted very expansive timelines for filing child sex abuse claims. For instance, in Connecticut, the statute of limitations for criminal sexual abuse, exploitation, or assault of a minor case is thirty (30) years from the date the victim turns 18. For related civil cases in Connecticut, the statute of limitations is the same. Additionally, the court may extend the time for filing if the abuser (defendant) engaged in fraudulent concealment of the alleged sexual misconduct.

In certain jurisdictions, including Rhode Island, there is no statute of limitations in connection with criminal sexual abuse and assault cases.

Within the last few years, California, New York, and New Jersey have updated their respective statutes of limitations to allow for prolonged periods to initiate child sexual abuse lawsuits per newly passed victims’ rights bills. For instance, the Child Victims Act in New York extended the statute of limitations for civil cases to enable survivors to file a claim until they reach the age of 55. Before the Child Victims Act, the law required survivors to start a civil suit within one to five years after turning 18.

For criminal cases, the Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations by five years, allowing survivors to press criminal charges until they turn 28.

Similarly, in California, Assembly Bill 218 revised the state’s child sexual abuse statute of limitations period for civil cases to allow filings up to 22 years after the survivor’s eighteenth birthday. The California bill also allows survivors 40 years or older to file childhood sexual assault claims.

The language in state criminal codes and other laws can be convoluted and difficult to understand. To ensure you’re filing a timely claim in your respective jurisdiction, consult with one of our clergy sex abuse lawyers.

Why choose Herman Law’s clergy sexual abuse
attorneys?

If you or your child experienced childhood sexual abuse by clergy members, legal action might be an option. The process can be highly intimidating and tremendously challenging, but the clergy abuse attorneys at Herman Law are here to help you seek justice against those who harmed you.

Our team is committed to empowering victims of sexual abuse to take back their lives and begin the healing process. Our attorneys are proactive, effective, efficient, and vigorous in the representation of our clients. We continuously advocate for clients nationwide while treating them with respect and integrity. Our team has successfully secured over $200 million in verdicts and settlements for our clients who experienced childhood sexual abuse by clergy members.

At Herman Law, we can help you navigate the legal process and explain your legal rights, assist with filing a timely claim, and most importantly, serve as a support system for you and your family during this difficult time. We are committed to preserving your privacy while vigorously advocating for and protecting your legal rights.

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If you were abused by a priest, then you should contact a sex abuse attorney. A lawyer who handles sex abuse cases is a person that can give you your options, can give you advice. If the case happened years ago, you can find out whether or not you can still bring a claim. If it happened recently, then you’re within the statute of limitations, then you can bring a claim and hold the perpetrator and if appropriate, the institution accountable. But you won’t know that unless you speak to a lawyer. But even before you contact a lawyer, you may, if it hasn’t been reported, contact the authorities because it’s a crime and it should be reported.

Contact us for a free, confidential consultation today by calling (866)-244-6443 or reaching out to our team online.