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.

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.


Archdiocese of Los Angeles

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.

Settlement Value of Church Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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.

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. More about Royal Rangers Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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.

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