The news media and recent popular documentaries have raised awareness about an alleged child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church. If you were a victim, you may be asking:
- Can I sue the Catholic church for allowing a priest to abuse me?
- What evidence do I need for a successful sex abuse claim against the clergy?
- Who can I report the sex crimes to?
You are not alone in this fight. Our experienced attorneys are here to stand with you in your fight for justice.
There's a long and troubling history of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Together, we can fight against dangerous members of the clergy.
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Though public awareness of child sex abuse in the Catholic church was severely limited, despite its prevalence, until around the 1980’s, priests committing sexual abuse of children has actually been a longstanding problem in the Catholic church.
Decades Of Church Abuse Kept Under Wraps
Since at least the 1950’s, church officials have been sending offending priests to Servants of the Paraclete and other such congregational facilities aimed at helping clergy deal with serious personal issues including pedophilia.
The Catholic Church has hidden widespread sexual abuse for decades. If you or a loved one were abused, we are here to help. Your voice matters. Whether your trauma occurred long in the past or just recently, our attorneys can help you pursue justice against the responsible parties. We believe you. Many survivors of sexual abuse wait for years to disclose the abuse, fearful that they won't be taken seriously or that the Church will retaliate against them. We understand the deep pain, embarrassment and shame that childhood sexual abuse can cause. These feelings can be overwhelming.
Disclosing an incident or multiple incidents of childhood sexual abuse is a sensitive and deeply personal choice. We will do our utmost to ensure that whatever you tell us is kept highly confidential. We are here to help you. Our only goal is to help survivors walk into the light and tell their stories truthfully. We believe that your voice needs to be heard, to inspire others to step forward and to help you find closure. You are powerful and meaningful.
Gerald Fitzgerald, who founded Servants of the Paraclete, wrote letters warning church officials that pedophilia was a serious problem among priests and believed that “offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry.”
National Attention Forces Change
In 2002, the Boston Globe covered the Catholic church scandal extensively. The magazine’s investigation and reporting of the scandal, which won a Pulitzer Prize, played an instrumental role in raising awareness of the crisis throughout the nation and eventually, worldwide.
This widespread publicity had many positive effects—finally, Church officials, law enforcement, and government agencies were acknowledging the need for further investigation and starting to take appropriate action to combat the problem.
How Common Is Child Sex Abuse In U.S. Catholic Churches?
An estimate from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reveals that a total of 16,787 abuse survivors stepped forward between 1950 and 2012 to report sexual abuse committed by priests.
However, the organization only counted reports it considered “credible” and doesn’t include any from 2003 for unnamed reasons. Thus, the true number of abuse victims is likely much higher, especially considering that many incidents of abuse, especially those occurring within religious organizations, still go unreported.
Victims Hold Church Administration Responsible
The Catholic Church has been harshly criticized for its response to the sex abuse crisis.
Victim advocates say that the way both individual dioceses and the Vatican have handled the problem has in many cases only led to further abuse and stifled public awareness, a crucial force that enables more abuse survivors to step forward and start to heal from their experiences.
Ineffective Handling Of Abuse Complaints
Tragically, it’s been common for reports from abuse survivors to be simply dismissed by the Church hierarchy, which allows each diocese to determine its own methods for “substantiating” cases. Sometimes, the requirements set for identifying “credible” abuse reports are unclear or even subject to change.
For example, a 2014 investigation conducted by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) revealed that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis used “difficult, vague, and shifting criteria” for deciding which allegations could be considered “credible.”
Punishments For Clergy Few & Far Between
Even when Church officials investigate complaints and substantial evidence or outright confessions of committing abuse, the priests responsible are not always appropriately punished, if they face any consequences at all for their despicable actions.
Many priests are not reported to law enforcement and thereby avoid having to register as sex offenders. Shockingly, a large number of priests were not even dismissed from their positions, instead allowed to move to a different parish, where some went on to abuse even more children.
Many priests choose to step down after being exposed as child molesters, but some are actually offered considerable sums of money to leave the priesthood. For example, Timothy Dolan, who was the Archbishop of Milwaukee in 2003, gave priests over $20,000 each, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
Wave Of Sex Abuse Lawsuits Bankrupts Church
Over 3,000 civil lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic Church by sex abuse survivors since the 1950’s. Some cases were resolved through millions of dollars in settlements, ultimately costing the Church over $3 billion to date, says the National Catholic Reporter.
And more allegations are constantly arising—it’s estimated that the 195 dioceses in the U.S. pay an average of $300,000 each year over child sex abuse charges. 6 dioceses have already filed for bankruptcy due to financial losses from settlements.
Catholic Church Sex Abuse Crisis News & Updates
By Brian Kent
May 15, 2019 - Pope Francis Declares New Rules For Sexual Abuse Complaints In Catholic Church
In what observers are calling a major move for transparency, Pope Francis has issued the first law requiring officials in the Catholic Church to report cases of clergy sexual abuse to their superiors. Francis' decree also obligates Church officials to report sexual abuse cover-up attempts, and applies equally worldwide. While expansive, the new law does not require Church officials to report abuse allegations to the police and other secular authorities, a fact widely-criticized by advocates and abuse survivors. Vatican representatives say a universal obligation to report sexual abuse could, in some cases, lead victims to be ostracized from the community. However, the Pope's decree does restrict Church officials from interfering in investigations conducted by secular authorities. The new rules also outline concrete guidelines for conducting investigations of sexual abuse. Initial investigations, according to Francis' decree, must be completed within 90 days of an allegation, and can be conducted in part by qualified laypeople. And sexual abuse survivors, along with whistleblowers, are to be protected from retribution. Francis' rules also allow Church dioceses around the globe up to one year to establish new offices and protocols for the handling of abuse reports.
February 4, 2019 - Pennsylvania Priest Sentenced To Prison In Sex Abuse Case
In a rare turn of events, a Catholic priest in Pennsylvania has been sentenced to between 2.5 and 14 years in state prison for sexually abusing a child. David Poulson, 65, was assigned to the Diocese of Erie when he sexually assaulted one boy and attempted to assault another at a rural Jefferson County cabin between 2002 and 2010. He pleaded guilty to the abuse in 2010. Poulson has been forbidden from serving as a priest and is currently in the process of being removed from the priesthood.
Poulson's two victims were between the ages of 8 and 18 when the sexual abuse occurred at his remote hunting cabin. In an emotional statement read to the court, one of the victims said he suffered lifelong consequences from the abuse, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He is a survivor of at least one suicide attempt. "Because of this man's actions," the survivor wrote, "I've suffered for many years from mental anguish. I trusted him and was betrayed."
Poulson apologized for his actions in a brief statement before the court, saying, "The most important thing I want to say is I am sorry for the actions I committed. They were both criminal and sinful. I am ashamed of what I did." Poulson was arrested and charged in May by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office after a grand jury heard evidence against him.
Poulson was among 301 priests named in the sweeping grand jury report, which chronicled abuse cases dating back decades and included information on over 1,000 child victims. Due to Pennsylvania's statute of limitations, Poulson is one of only two priests who have faced criminal charges due to the grand jury's findings, the Post-Gazette reports.
January 28, 2019 - New York Passes Child Victims Act, Strengthening Rights For Sexual Abuse Survivors
New York lawmakers have passed the Child Victims Act, a new law set to expand the rights of sexual abuse survivors throughout the state. The Senate passed the act unanimously, while the State Assembly voted 130 to 3 in favor of the resolution. The Child Victims Act will radically extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases, both in criminal and civil courts. Thanks to the new law, survivors of sexual abuse in New York will now have until their 55th birthday to file a civil lawsuit against the offender and any negligent third-party defendants. Criminal charges can be sought until the victim turns 28 years of age. The law is also set to open a "window of justice," a one-year time period for survivors whose claims were previously barred by the statute of limitations. During this window, any survivor will be allowed to file a civil claim, no matter when the abuse occurred, without fear of the statute of limitations. Passage of the Child Victims Act comes shortly after the Catholic Church dropped its opposition to the bill. The Church had long argued that the "window of justice" should allow sexual abuse lawsuits against both private and public institutions. The Child Victims Act was first proposed in 2006, but failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate.
December 16, 2018 - Jesuits Release Names Of Accused Priests
In a surprise move, the Midwest and Maryland provinces of the Jesuits - the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church - have released lists of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse, with allegations dating back to the 1950s. All told, the lists chronicle 70 names, all of which represent an "established accusation" of sexual abuse, one in which, the Jesuits say, it is "more likely true than not."
The Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal is well-documented, but religious order priests have largely been allowed to practice their faith in the shadows. While 85 dioceses and archdioceses have now released lists of accused priests, the Jesuits, in making their lists public this week, have become the first religious order to do the same. About one-third of all priests in the USA belong to religious orders, which operate separately and independently from bishops and archbishops. While bishops can remove religious order priests from their diocese, they cannot punish them.
November 14, 2018 - Catholic Diocese Of Ogdensburg Names Priests Accused Of Sexual Misconduct
Like many other Catholic dioceses, the Catholic Diocese of Odgensburg, New York has made the decision to publish a list of the priests involved in sexual abuse cases, according to the Post Star. Bishop Terry LaValley, in a letter circulated at weekend masses, said, "while there are strong arguments for releasing the names and strong arguments for not releasing the names, recent controversies in the Church make it necessary for us to now release the names." Tuesday saw the publication of the list, which appeared on the Diocese's website:
- Fay Ager
- Joseph Conti (deceased)
- Joseph Degen (deceased)
- Robert Duford (deceased)
- John Fallon (deceased)
- Ronald Farchette
- Bruce Favreau
- Edward Franklin (deceased)
- Theodore Gillette (deceased)
- John Hunt (deceased)
- Edwin Kennedy (deceased)
- John Kennedy (deceased)
- Emile Lalonde (deceased)
- James Larche
- Roger Martin (deceased)
- Gerald McGrath (deceased)
- Roland Menard
- Liam O'Doherty
- Albert Plante (deceased)
- Gerald Sharland (deceased)
- Robert Shurtleff
- Thomas Squires
- George Tobin (deceased)
- Michael Toth
- Clark White
- John Wiley (deceased)
- David Wisniewski
- Paul Worczak
In 2004, the Diocese of Ogdensburg released a report saying that since 1950, a total of 56 people, including 37 minors, had made sexual abuse allegations against 35 clergy members. At the time, the Diocese said that 23 of the allegations were credible, but only released the names of four of the priests, all of whom were removed from the ministry.
October 12, 2018 - Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Of Washington, Resigns Amid Sex Abuse Scandal
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington who became the face of the current sexual abuse scandal after evidence from a Pennsylvania grand jury report suggested that he had protected sexual predators, the Atlantic reports.
Cardinal Wuerl served as the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. Wuerl emerges from the grand jury report as a conflicted figure, one both lauded and excoriated for his handling of sexual abuse complaints. During his tenure in Pittsburgh, Wuerl was widely seen as a force for change within the Church, someone who would tackle the scourge of sex abuse head on. The grand jury report celebrates Wuerl's attempts to defrock Anthony Cipolla, an alleged pedophile, despite strong resistance within the Vatican.
At the same time, Wuerl appears to have allowed other priests to continue on in the ministry after sexual assault allegations were leveled against them. George Zirwas is a notable example. Father Zirwas' proclivities for child abuse and sadomasochism were known within the Diocese of Pittsburgh as early as 1987, one year before Wuerl became Bishop. Even so, the priest was allowed to remain in the ministry for another nine years, even after Wuerl had approved a $900,000 settlement for two of Zirwas' victims.