Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuits Against Churches

It now appears that there may be thousands of former victims who were subjected to sexual abuse as children at the hands of priests, ministers, and other church members. Our clergy sex abuse lawyers represent these abuse victims in civil lawsuits against the churches and religious organizations that failed to protect them.

If you have been a victim of sex abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit, we can help you. Contact us today at 800-553-8082 or reach out to us online.

Clergy Abuse Lawsuit News and Update

June 14, 2024:  The Augustinian Catholic order finally released its first public list of clergy members in its Chicago province deemed to be child predators, naming five men.

But these lists are so hard to trust. With this particular list, the exclusion of Rev. Richard McGrath, a former head of Providence Catholic High School, jumps off the page.  McGrath was fired after a student reported seeing a nude image of a boy on his phone. Although McGrath was investigated and later accused of raping a student, he was never charged due to lack of cooperation. The Augustinians settled a lawsuit related to McGrath for $2 million.

This case highlights a broader issue of inconsistent transparency nationally regarding clergy members accused of sexual abuse. Despite some dioceses and Catholic orders posting lists of credibly accused clergy members, many such lists remain incomplete or are not updated regularly, clouding the extent of the abuse crisis more than 20 years after it first came to public attention. This lack of comprehensive disclosure hampers efforts to ensure accountability and justice for the victims.

March 28, 2024: The Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire has reached a settlement regarding a claim of clergy sex abuse dating back to the 1970s involving a former priest. The victim was allegedly mistreated around the age of 15 or 16 by Rev. Alfred L. Jannetta during his assignment at St. Paul’s Church in Franklin between 1973 and 1974. The allegations here are awful.   Jannetta pried the child with alcohol and marijuana before sexually abusing him. The child was also tragically sexually abused by an unnamed priest during a two-week session at Camp Fatima in Gilmanton Iron Works when he was just 8.

How much compensation did the victim receive for his sex abuse claim?  His lawyer said the settlement was in the “low six figures.”  Obviously not a lot for what this man has endured.  But the statute of limitations had passed.  There was no meaningful chance of compensation from a jury.

The Catholic Church gets warranted criticism for neglecting children like this for far too long.  In this case, it is stepping up and doing the right thing and giving a compensation payout in a case where is could have avoided responsibility.  How could victims get fair settlements in cases like this?  This state and many others like it need to change their statute of limitations in clergy abuse lawsuits as many other states have.

Sexual Abuse by Clergy and Church Members

Over the last 15 years, the extent of child sexual abuse by ministers, priests, and other members of church organizations has gained increased attention and recognition. Sex abuse and cover-up scandals within the Catholic Church, in particular, have come to light with increasing frequency. Sadly, it appears that the problem of priests sexually abusing children under their care was more extensive than most people wanted to believe.

The other hard truth that has also become increasingly clear is that the organizational leadership within many churches (especially the Catholic Church) were aware of various incidents of abuse and sought to cover them up instead of defending the victims.

When a child is sexually abused by a priest, minister, or some other church authority figure, it can have very damaging psychological effects that remain with them the rest of their lives. Victims of childhood sex abuse by clergy carry very real and very disruptive emotional scars. Fortunately, the increased awareness of this problem has given many victims the courage to come forward and prompted changes in the law that give them the ability to hold abusive clergymen (and the churches) responsible.

Civil Lawsuits for Church Sexual Abuse

Victims of sexual abuse by priests or church members have more options available today than ever before if they want to get justice for what happened to them. In the past, victims of child sex abuse were often limited to pursuing criminal charges. Bringing a civil lawsuit for the abuse was often not an option because the abuser had no financial resources or the statute of limitations had expired.

Today, however, the legal options available to victims of clergy sexual abuse are significantly improved. In the last decade, as a majority of states in the U.S. have passed new laws making it easier for child sex abuse victims to bring civil lawsuits. For instance, 28 states have extended the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse. New York and a handful of other states have actually eliminated the statute of limitations on these claims entirely. This makes it possible for victims of childhood sex abuse to bring lawsuits years or even decades after the fact, when they are adults and better able to handle the emotional toll.

The other significant legal change has been the increased ability of victims to impose civil liability for abuse on the church or religious organizations. Filing a civil lawsuit against the individual priest or minister who committed the abuse is often pointless because they rarely have money to pay for damages. The current trend in clergy sexual abuse lawsuits has been to hold the church accountable either as the employer of the abuser or for negligently failing to protect the children from the abuse.

Organizational Defendants in Clergy Sex Abuse Civil Lawsuits

Victims who bring successful clergy sex abuse lawsuits against the church or religious organization will be entitled to get financial compensation for what happened to them. Victims of clergy sex abuse are entitled to various types of civil damages, which include:

  • Medical Expenses: clergy sex abuse victims are entitled to compensation for the cost of all past and future medical expenses that are incurred as a direct result of the abuse. This often includes the cost of a lifetime of mental health counseling or related treatment.
  • Pain & Suffering: this is usually a big-ticket item in sex abuse cases because mental and emotional pain & suffering are obviously significant consequences of abuse.
  • Lost Income: if a plaintiff can show that the sexual abuse and resulting mental suffering caused them to make less money during their lifetime, they may be entitled to recover damages for this.
  • Punitive Damages: in some states, victims may be able to impose punitive damages on defendants in clergy sex abuse cases.

Since 2007, religious institutions in the United States have paid an estimated $3.5 billion in financial compensation to victims of child sexual abuse.

Church Sex Abuse Lawsuit Settlement Amounts

Bringing a civil lawsuit for clergy sexual abuse can be stressful and very emotional for most victims. Before they decide whether to put themselves through the pain of a lawsuit, most victims want to know how much compensation they can reasonably expect and what their chances of winning will be.

Civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse by priests or church members tend to have very high potential value as long as there are no legal obstacles to the claim (e.g., the statute of limitations) and there is a viable religious organization to name as a defendant. Based on prior verdicts and reported settlements, the average value of a good clergy sexual abuse lawsuit is around $275,000 to $350,000. Depending on the circumstance of the cases, however, the value can potentially be much higher.  It is not uncommon to see settlements in the millions.  The average settlement is misleading because there are many settlements in cases that are past the statute of limitation and the average payouts in those cases are markedly lower.

The other good thing about clergy sex abuse lawsuits is that they tend to settle more frequently than other types of cases. If the plaintiff has valid claims (i.e., there is reliable evidence that the alleged abuse actually occurred) most churches will be very eager to settle and avoid negative publicity. These cases very rarely go to trial.

Some religious organizations such as the Catholic Church get sued so frequently in sex abuse cases that they treat these more like insurance claims than civil lawsuits. For example, in many large cities the Catholic Archdiocese has retained third party administrators to process and settle incoming sex abuse lawsuits.

Religious Organization Defendants in Recent Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Most of the public attention has been focused on sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church. This is certainly well deserved as the Catholic Archdioceses in the U.S. have paid an estimated $2.9 billion in compensation to sexual abuse victims.

This accounts for over 80% of all compensation paid by religious organizations in sex abuse lawsuits. Although the Catholic Church is certainly the frontrunner, they are certainly not the only religious institution that is regularly named in sex abuse lawsuits. Below are major religious institutions that have been the target of sexual abuse litigation recently:

Royal Rangers / Assemblies of God

The Royal Rangers is like a Christian version of the boy scouts run by the Assemblies of God Church. The Rangers have recently been the subject of a growing number of sex abuse lawsuits by former members of the programs who alleged that they were sexual abused as children while they were scouts. The Royal Ranger troop leaders accused of the assault were previously convicted criminally.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million to settle the claims of 500 victims who alleged that they were sexually abused by clergy members. 220 individual clergy members from the L.A. diocese were identified as committing acts of abuse.

Archdiocese of Pittsburgh

In 2020, the Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh paid $19.2 million in compensation to resolve the claims of 224 victims who made “credible” claims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy members in the Pittsburgh area.

Where We Are With Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church in 2024?

Progress has been made in dealing with sex abuse in 2024.  The Church does want to do the right thing and get back to its mission of advancing the word of God.  But despite the Catholic Church’s development of robust anti-abuse protocols, notably after the historic summit called by Pope Francis in 2019, there remains a significant gap in their full application. Because the local churches can really do what they want because there is lack of a monitoring mechanism to ensure these rules are implemented globally.

This discrepancy in application leads to inconsistencies in how bishops across different regions respond to abuse cases, with some resigning due to dysfunctions while others do not, raising questions about the application of sanctions. The challenge is compounded by a lack of transparency and procedural clarity in handling cases of non-reporting bishops, underscoring a need for a change in attitude alongside the new legislation that give victims a chance to seek justice.

Contact Us About Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of clergy sex sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit, we can help.   Contact us today at 800-553-8082 or tell us about your case online.

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