Sexual abuse scandals have been rocking the Catholic Church for years. The Church has to be held accountable for these cover-ups of horrific abuse cases, and the court systems are beginning to realize this fact. You are not alone if you are a survivor of priest sexual abuse, and there is help for you in dealing with this trauma.

The priest sexual abuse scandal has resulted in substantial financial settlements for victims in California as criminal charges are being brought against individual priests.  Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is here for you to see that you receive the compensation and justice you deserve if you are a victim of this devasting abuse.

Los Angeles Archdiocese was Staunch in Their Avoidance of Priest Sexual Abuse Charges

For years the Los Angeles Archdiocese was staunchly avoiding the claims of sexual abuse being committed by their priests. They went as far as to hide or cover up these crimes committed by priests across the country. When hearing of a priest who had committed sexual abuse against a child, they would remove them from their Church and transfer them to another, putting more children at risk.

The Church, as a whole, did not alert authorities these crimes were occurring and instead kept the priest sexual abuse files a secret. The closest thing to an investigation of these heinous crimes happened in 2009 when the United States Attorney in Los Angeles started an investigation of a cardinal in the Archdiocese.

It was reported that a grand jury investigation began to determine if Cardinal Roger Mahony and other church leaders had committed fraud. They were suspected of failing to adequately deal with priests who had committed sexual abuse of children in their parishes. A legal theory was applied uniquely by the authorities investigating these charges.

A source from the federal law enforcement stated prosecutors sought to use a federal statute against Cardinal Mahony. The statute makes it illegal to deprive another of their intangible right to honest services. The victims in these cases were parishioners of the priests, and they relied on the priests and the parish as a whole to keep children safe. Unfortunately, there were no charges filed as a result of this investigation.

A new investigation was launched in 2013 when documents were released showing Cardinal Mahony plotted to conceal the child sexual abuse cases occurring within the Church from the authorities. In the wake of this investigation, other state attorney generals began launching investigations into other claims of sexual abuse committed by priests. People are asked to come forward if they believe they, or their children, have been sexually abused by their priest. Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm will help you through these proceedings and fight for your rights to be protected.

Suing the Church for Sexual Abuse by a Priest

Survivors of sexual abuse committed by a priest can file a personal injury lawsuit. Parents can also file on behalf of their child if they discover sexual abuse has occurred between the child and the priest. There is a statute of limitations in many states for filing cases of sexual abuse committed by a priest.

  • Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations places a legal deadline on when certain types of legal actions can be filed with the courts to receive compensation. The time limit, or statute of limitation, depends on the specific event or criminal activity.

Each state has its deadline regarding the statute of limitations. Most states, because of the mental, physical, and emotional trauma caused by the sexual abuse from a priest have increased their statutes of limitations. With this increase, victims are given more time to file a lawsuit. In California, when filing criminal charges against a priest, there is no statute of limitations in place. If you file a civil suit for a minor, you have until the minor reaches the age of 26.

Sexual Abuse by a Priest May Qualify Under the  RICO Act

The RICO Act (Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) was set up to deal with prosecuting organized criminal enterprises. Some feel its provisions apply to the Catholic Church as well. This belief is based on the religious organization's attempt to hide reports of sexual abuse and the transferring of priests when they were accused of these crimes to other dioceses.

It is not unheard of to file sexual abuse crimes under the RICO Act. In Camden, NJ, there was a multimillion-dollar verdict awarded to victims of sexual abuse against the Camden, New Jersey Diocese using the RICO Act.  When the Catholic Church is found responsible under this Act, victims can receive three times as much compensation as would be awarded to them by filing a standard civil lawsuit.

Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Against Priests

Many lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic Church in recent years. In 2002 five priests were arrested in Boston which led to widespread attention as to the scope of these crimes. These cases have brought many more cases to light as victims are beginning to feel more comfortable in coming forward.

In 2018, two separate class-action lawsuits were brought against the Catholic Church. These suits named the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as the main defendant, and another called the Holy See at the Vatican as a secondary defendant.

  • Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits are where a group of plaintiffs makes a legal claim, and all together, they are represented by an individual. All members of the group are injured or harmed in the same manner by an actionable offense or product. California, along with Texas, New Jersey, Florida, and New York, have the highest number of class action complaints in the country.

These suits are regulated by federal laws and are a popular form of multi-party litigation within the federal court system.

These suits are regulated by federal laws and are the well-known form of multi-party litigation within the federal court system.

The first class-action suit filed in federal court found the church to have failed on numerous claims:

  • Repeated failure to address priest sexual abuse against children
  • A pattern of unlawful activity violating federal and international law
  • Various forms of negligence and conspiracy
  • Allegations of sexual abuse and assault
  • Aiding and abetting
  • Wrongful death
  • And others

This lawsuit sought damages under the RICO Act using federal mail and wire fraud as statutes.

The second class-action suit focused heavily on individual abuses suffered at the hands of Catholic priests as well as the USCCB's role in covering up the actions of the priests. It claimed:

  • Violation of nuisance laws through a conspiracy of concealing criminal acts
  • Negligence
  • Deception
  • Malicious acts

This suit sought monetary damages and the release of names of all priests or clergy who have been accused of child sexual abuse.

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Settlements

National Public Radio has reported that the Catholic Church has paid out more than three billion dollars in child sexual abuse settlements in the United States. There are at least 19 dioceses and other religious orders that have had to file bankruptcy along with some parochial and boarding schools. These numbers show you that you are not alone in your fight to overcome sexual abuse from the hands of a priest. Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm wants to see you receive the justice that you deserve for this trauma.

The largest sexual abuse settlement was for $660 million, which included the claims of more than 500 victims living in and around the Los Angeles area. The Archdiocese is the largest of its kind in the United States and is most likely why it had the highest settlement amount. On average, each victim received more than one million dollars each before their legal costs were paid as a settlement for their suffering.

The Archdiocese of Boston also had to pay out on a settlement for more than 500 hundred cases amounting to $85 million. Victims of these cases received more than $80,000 each. The Church was also made to pay for psychological counseling for the victims who suffered sexual abuse by their priests.

Should Priests Be Forced to Report Sexual Abuse Confessions?

Under the law, a confession of sins to a priest is sacred. This treatment applies when a fellow priest confesses his sexual abuse of a child to another priest. Because of all the sexual abuse cases coming forward in the country, the law is being questioned as to whether or not priests should be allowed to honor this confidential confession.

Lawmakers in California are questioning this confessional confidentiality due to the heightened scrutiny of the child sexual abuse rolling through the Roman Catholic Church. The Senate of California approved a bill recently that would force priests who hear confessions of child sexual abuse from another priest to report it. Church leaders are arguing that it is an unconstitutional request and an intrusion and violation of religious rights.

Up until this new bill, faith leaders have been the only exception to the rule requiring the report of sexual abuse to a child. Doctors and spouses are required to report these crimes. Some senators feel it is now time to make the priests responsible for this mandated reporting as well. One senator, Jerry Hill, says it is time to put children first in California instead of protecting abusers as the Church has been doing.

  • California Senate Bill 360 introduced by Senator Jerry Hill

Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act ensures persons, even those in the clergy, are considered mandated reporters. With the new law, the clergy must report when a priest in their professional capacity gains knowledge of or observes a child whom they know or reasonably suspect is the victim of sexual abuse or neglect. This rule would apply during a penitential communication (confession).

If they fail, as a mandated reporter, to report the known incident or reasonably suspected incident, they can be charged with a misdemeanor under California law. The bill would also define a confession (penitential communication) for purposes of the exception. This bill would further exempt from the exemption any confession made between a priest and another person employed at the same location or facility, or between a priest and another priest. By redefining an exception to a crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

Under the California Constitution, it is required the state reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. This bill would not provide this reimbursement for this specific act.

Mandated reports under California Penal Code 11165.7 are:

  • Teachers
  • Instructional aides
  • Teacher’s aides or assistants employed in a public school system
  • A classified employee of a public school system
  • An administrative supervisor or officer of child welfare or a certified personnel employee of private or public school system
  • An administrator of a private or public day camp
  • Administrator or employee of private or public youth center, youth organization, or recreation program
  • Those who work in a county office of education or the State Department of Education who has duties which bring them into contact with children regularly
  • Licensed administrator, or employee of licensed community care or child daycare facility
  • Head Start Program teacher
  • Licensed worker or licensing evaluator by a licensing agency as defined under Section 11165.11
  • Public assistance worker
  • And multiple others (see full list under Section 1 of the Penal Code 11165.7)

The Church is opposing Senate Bill 360. It believes it will not protect children, but will dangerously weaken religious freedom when it interjects the government into the confessional. They go on to say the 'seal of confession' is a sacred Catholic belief and penitents rely on this as an unbreakable guarantee to confess and seek reconciliation with God freely.

Those who support this bill include The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Consumer Attorneys of California, National Association of Social Workers and Crime Victims United California. Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm also supports your right to compensation. We are here for you to help fight for the justice you deserve if a priest has sexually abused you or your child.

This bill is the first time California has attempted to challenge the 'priest-penitent privilege' which protects priests from having to disclose confessions regarding child sexual abuse confessions. Twelve other states have challenged this privilege and have similar statutes to protect their children.

If the bill does not pass, a person can walk into a confessional booth and admit to sexual abuse against a child. The priest is not allowed to do anything about the confession other than delivering a penance of prayer. There is a long list of public and private employees ( Section 1 of the Penal Code 11165.7) who are mandated by law to report such activity. The Church is not required to play by the same rules. This loss of reporting leads to dangerous consequences such as those in Australia, where a priest confessed to more than 1,500 instances of molestation to more than 30 different priests. Since he admitted to these crimes under the sacred seal, no one ever reported his crimes, and the abuse was allowed to continue. This practice is what Senator Hill wants the new bill to change.

Filing a Sexual Abuse Claim Against a Priest or the Church

Many people worry they are not able to file a lawsuit against the Catholic Church or a priest. They think the Church is protected under the First Amendment which protects churches from government intrusion. The fact is, this is not true when the charge is sexual abuse.

The courts allow for victims of sexual abuse to bring a claim against the Church, and it can be filed under several different theories all covered under negligence. One obstacle of filing a claim against the Church or an individual priest can be the statute of limitations. Both federal and state governments have created a statute of limitations in many areas of the law. Most statutes of limitations are logical such as bringing finality to claims.

California has changed its rules regarding the statute of limitations. They now allow for the filing of criminal charges of sexual abuse with no limits of a statute and those for a minor are allowed up until the victim reaches 26 years of age in civil litigations. Suffering from sexual abuse by a priest, a person who is expected to be a protector creates both psychological and emotional injuries. You are not alone, and neither is your child. Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is here to help you through this challenging time and help you recover from your injuries.

Representation for Those Sexually Abused by a Priest

Since the crimes of sexual abuse by priests has been making headlines; more victims are coming forward with their stories about abuse. It is becoming more apparent how far-reaching the consequences of childhood sexual abuse and abuse committed from someone in the position of a protector can be. Lives have been changed and put at risk due to the use of drugs and alcohol the victims use to deal with the abuse.

Victims are finding great relief in finally being able to talk about their sexual abuse. Talking about the experiences they had to go through, taking action against their abusers, and having justice served is helping them cope.  Sexual abuse steals a childhood, and this is something that can never be fully compensated. Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm will do everything in our power to find compensation for your losses, both emotionally and physically.

Victims often feel embarrassed and intimidated about coming forward with their reports of being sexually abused by their priest. A priest is supposed to be one of the most honest people in the community, and accusing one of such a heinous crime is hard to believe. Other questions refrain a victim from coming forward:

  • Will the charges be made public as well as my secret?

Confidentiality is a significant issue, and attorneys handling sexual abuse cases understand your need to keep private matters quiet. Check with your attorney on the possibility of representing you in court with an alias. Many cases of sexual abuse from a priest are settled out of court. The Church and the priest often do not want to go to trial.

  • How much compensation can I expect?

Every case has a different value in the eyes of a judge or the courts. Your attorney will go over the facts of your charges and discuss compensation in detail with you. Past results do not ensure future success, but one thing victims do achieve is closure, which some find more valuable than money.

  • If I am willing to settle, do I need an attorney?

You do not need an attorney to settle a claim out of court; however, you do need an attorney to reach the fairest settlement possible for your suffering. There are a lot of hours of investigation and work that go into each case. Having the right law firm on your side with a good reputation will make a significant difference in the outcome of your settlement amount.

  • Why is there not more done to stop sexual predators?

With each victim that comes forward who has suffered sexual abuse, it makes it possible to remove one more predator from the streets. Predators typically prey on more than one victim at a time, and when you take one off the street with your charges, you save countless other victims from undergoing the same tragedy.

You cannot identify a predator by a specific look, or walk. A predator is only unveiled when a victim comes forward and alerts the public of their actions. Sexual predators are often trusted community members, someone in power, or someone in a position that is supposed to be a protector. They cannot be identified until their victims report them.

  • Am I morally wrong to sue the Church for sexual abuse?

No, a person is not morally wrong to sue the Church if a priest has sexually abused them. It is not only your right but also your responsibility to bring legal action against a priest and their Church for these unspeakable crimes. Pope Francis himself believes this is true.

Find Help Regarding Sexual Abuse by a Priest

Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm represents survivors of sexual abuse committed by a priest. It is our goal to help you seek justice, peace, and healing. It is difficult to disclose abuse, and we understand your needs at this terrible time. We are ready to fight for your rights so you can begin putting this trauma behind you. You will receive a measure of justice by saving others from suffering when a predator is identified and removed from service. Call us today at 310-359-9451 and discover how we can help you or your child.