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Catholic Church Sex Abuse Lawsuit

Last Updated: February 1, 2024

It’s no longer a controversial statement to say that, both in the United States and globally, the Roman Catholic Church has had a long history of problems with sex abuse. While efforts have been made to improve the way individual churches and leaders deal with abuse cases, particularly in how allegations are dealt with, few observers have confidently claimed that the problems have gone away. Moreover, Catholic Church sex abuse lawsuits are not just about the present or immediate past; they often involve allegations from survivors dating back decades. While complications can arise with historical allegations, including the moving around of clergy members, deaths of the alleged abusers, and the statute of limitations, it is clear survivors of clergy abuse deserve justice. Across the United States today, specialist Catholic Church sex abuse lawyers are helping those affected receive financial compensation and, where possible, ensuring those behind the abuse – both in committing the acts and covering them up – are held accountable for their actions.

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If you or a loved one were a victim of improper sexual behavior by a Catholic church member, we can help you fight for your rights and compensation.

The Catholic Church Sex Abuse

Acknowledging that there is a long history of sex abuse cases linked to the Catholic Church might feel like a common sentiment today, but it wasn’t always that way. Some individual cases came to light in the 1980s, and there were certainly scandals in the 1990s, but two investigations in the 2000s truly uncovered the scale of the issue. These were the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting from the Boston Globe in 2002, as made famous by the Spotlight movie, and the John Jay Report (2004), a study commissioned by the US Conference of Bishops. While emanating from different sources and pursued with different agendas, both reports uncovered the widespread scale of abuse linked to the Catholic Church, as well as the efforts to cover it up by senior church members. For example, the John Jay Report found that there were 6,700 unique sex abuse allegations made against 4,392 Catholic clergy members from 1950-2002. But the problem certainly didn’t end with the Globe’s investigations or the revelations provided in the John Jay Report. Abuse still occurs in the Catholic Church, and the law is still trying to hold those behind it to account in the 2020s.

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Lawsuit

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawsuit News & Updates

  • February 1, 2024 - Former Cardinal Is Ruled Not Competent to Stand Trial in Sex Abuse Case.
  • January 1, 2024 - New Orleans church orphanages dark secrets. As bankruptcy documents are hidden, survivors of Catholic-run institutions recall a litany of sexual abuse.
  • December 1, 2023 - A man has sued the Denver Archdiocese and former priests for allegedly repressing memories of childhood abuse.
  • November 1, 2023 - Patrick Heron, a former PPD officer, priest convicted in separate sexual violence cases involving child victims.
  • October 1, 2023 - Former Cardinal McCarrick found unfit to stand trial for sexual abuse. Former Cardinal McCarrick, 93, is the oldest cleric facing charges in the abuse crisis of the Catholic Church.
  • July 1, 2023 - What do the latest investigations into Catholic Church sexual abuse mean? Around 20 state attorneys general conducted investigations which catalogued decades of abuse, but few criminal prosecutions.
  • June 1, 2023 - Some of those named in the Baltimore Catholic Church report on sex abuse have left their positions.
  • May 1, 2023 - Baltimore's Catholic Church abused 600 children or more over 60 years.
  • April 1, 2023 - Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr called past coverups regarding sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Atlanta and the Diocese in Savannah "horrific" and "indefensible."
  • March 1, 2023 - Baltimore judge, Robert Taylor Jr., orders redaction of investigation into Archdiocese of Baltimore's sex abuse.

As of 2023, there are still many investigations and lawsuits pending against the Catholic Church for sexual abuse in the United States. For example, in New Jersey, there is an ongoing battle between sex abuse survivor groups and the state’s Catholic Church hierarchy over a so-called “credibly accused” list, which the Church published naming alleged sex abusers. The list, first released in 2019 after an investigation, has not been fully updated, despite numerous new allegations being made against clergy members not immediately identified. Across the country in Colorado, a Denver man has filed a lawsuit (dated January 2023) against a Catholic priest for alleged sexual abuse while he was serving as an altar boy. These are just a couple of incidents reported by the mainstream media in early 2023, but it provides just a small glimpse of what we know to be true: Sexual abuse cases are still being pursued in the courts, and investigators believe that many more cases will come to light. Moreover, many churches are accused of still not doing enough – or willfully covering up – abusers and sex abuse cases.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Statistics

Despite the best efforts of investigators, it has never been easy to paint an accurate picture of the scale of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. There are several reasons for this: the often historical nature of the abuse cases; the cover-ups that have occurred within the Church – still an ongoing issue today; reluctance of survivors, especially men and boys, to come forward and report abuse at the hands of a church member. However, many major reports and investigations have shed some light on the scale of abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States. While widescale investigations like the John Jay Report are useful for abuse statistics, they refer mostly to cases in the 20th century. However, there are efforts to continue reporting on both new and historical sex abuse cases. For instance, there is a frequent Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, commissioned in most years since 2002. A report published in October 2021 showed that there 4,200 new allegations of historical sex abuse in the United States linked to the Catholic Church. The report claimed that the instances of new – i.e., non-historical – allegations amounted to under two dozen. However, one of the most worrying trends from the report was that “35% of dioceses and eparchies lack a formal process to audit parishes for child protection practices.” We know from other church abuse cases, such as those connected to the Southern Baptist Convention lawsuits, that having mechanisms in place to report sex abuse is essential to deal with the problem. When that is lacking, sex abuse and cover-ups feel inevitable. Indeed, perhaps one of the most worrying church sex abuse statistics in recent years was published by NBC in 2019, where it found that 1,700 priests and clergy members who had been credibly accused of sex abuse were “living under the radar”, able to have unsupervised contact with children without oversight from the church or law enforcement. NBC claimed that many of these alleged perpetrators went on to commit sex abuse crimes after leaving the Church.

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Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Cases

While new Catholic Church sex abuse cases have been rare – but only relatively speaking when compared to the historical numbers – critics maintain that severe problems persist. The John Jay Report claimed that over 4% of 100,000 clergy members were accused of sex abuse over a 52-year period. The assumption is that current Catholic Church sex abuse cases are much lower than that. However, lawyers specializing in representing church abuse survivors deal with both new and historical cases, and more instances of both are constantly coming to light. For instance, a central Massachusetts Catholic diocese recently published a report detailing sex abuse cases covering a 72-year period (1950-2022). While the report highlighted 209 cases of sexual abuse during that period, it was widely criticized for failing to name any alleged perpetrators.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Cases

Catholic Church Priest Sexual Abuse

Even though the majority of sex abuse allegations have been leveled against priests and other members of the clergy, like bishops, it is certainly not limited to those who have been ordained. Church leaders and members of the lay community have also been accused of abuse and cover-ups. The Catholic Church may not have as many laypersons in positions of authority as, say, the Mormon Church, which is also facing a sex abuse lawsuit, but investigations have shown that it is not priests and bishops alone who have been found guilty of abusing their positions of trust.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Settlements

Overall, the United States Catholic Church has paid billions of dollars in settlements to survivors of sexual abuse. The majority of these church sex abuse payments came in the 21st century due to investigations like John Jay and the “Spotlight” report from the Boston Globe. Payouts continue in the 2020s, as lawyers and victim advocates hold perpetrators to account. In terms of seeking a settlement, it is worth noting that the Catholic Church in the United States is not a strictly monolithic organization; many of the sex abuse settlements are being managed by individual dioceses where abuses have been carried out.

Catholic Church History of Sexual Abuse

It would be impossible to list the entire history of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases here. We know, of course, that thousands of individuals, many as children, have been abused across the decades, and we know that thousands of Catholic Church priests and clergy have been credibly accused, some of whom have faced criminal charges. Broadly speaking, however, we know that the majority of abuse cases were carried out from the 1950s to 1980s, with around 17,000 accusations covering that period. Of course, that is not to say that things improved dramatically from the 1980s onward – far from it. Catholic Church sex abuse still happens to this day, and critics say church leaders are still not doing enough about it.

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If you or a loved one were a victim of improper sexual behavior by a Catholic church member, we can help you fight for your rights and compensation.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Report

There is an effort – both from within the Catholic Church and independent investigators – to continue to provide reports on the scale of sexual abuse. As mentioned previously, many of these reports are criticized for failing to name alleged perpetrators. However, the John Jay Report of 2004 is still held up as the most comprehensive and oft-cited investigation. While it only deals with abuse cases up until 2002 – although there have been updates to the report – its publication has had long-lasting effects and is still used as a benchmark almost two decades later. Of course, there are many other reports, both national and for individual dioceses, which will continue to come out as the Catholic Church in the United States tries to come to terms with both new and historical sex abuse allegations.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Victims

As previously set out, there have been thousands of victims of abuse at the hands of people linked to the Catholic Church. Many of the abuse survivors have banded together to create support groups and movements that seek justice, and have goals to prevent wide-scale abuse from happening again. In addition, some abuse survivors decide to file individual lawsuits. Sadly, we know that – for a variety of reasons – many Catholic Church sexual assault survivors have not come forward.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer

Religious sexual abuse cases, whether linked to the Catholic Church or another sect, often require specialist lawyers. We have hinted at some of the reasons for this, including the fact they are often historical cases where the alleged perpetrator may now be deceased. However, if you are a survivor of abuse, you deserve justice. Speaking to an experienced Catholic Church sex abuse lawyer can provide insight into your options. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that survivors can get access to compensation without, for example, going through a court trial, given the huge amounts of money the Church has put aside for settlements. But if you believe you have a credible case – even a historical one – you should connect with a lawyer to take your first steps on the path to justice.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawsuit FAQs

How many cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?

While it is not known exactly how many sexual abuse cases are linked to the Catholic Church, we know that there are at least 10,000 allegations over the last 70+ years, with at least 4,000 clergy credibly accused.

Why is sexual abuse so common in the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is not alone in having sexual abuse scandals, as other religious sects have had numerous scandals and cover-ups. However, the Catholic Church has seen some of the most widespread cases of abuse. It would be conjecture to cite all of the reasons, but we can say with authority that one of the reasons for the prevalence of abuse was the negligence in church hierarchies of dealing with it properly.

How many victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?

Again, it is impossible to put an exact figure on the number of Catholic Church sexual abuse victims. But we do know that thousands of children have been abused since the 1950s.

What percentage of Catholic priests have been accused?

The John Jay Report claims that around 4.4% of 100,000 priests and bishops were accused of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002. Since that time, many more individual clergy members have been accused.

How many Catholic priests have been prosecuted for sexual abuse?

Very few, relatively speaking. Of those cited in the John Jay Report, around 250 were criminally convicted. Cover-ups are still one of the main problems with sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Is abuse more common in the Catholic Church?

It is contested as a misconception that Catholic priests are more likely to sexually abuse children than other groups of men. However, we do know that the mafia-like “omerta” that prevailed within the organization for decades acted as a catalyst for sexual abuse incidents, given perpetrators were often given free rein and the Church was not held accountable until recently.

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About us

We are here to help you and loved ones advocate for justice. Feel free to send us any questions you might have, either about an injury or the process for pursuing justice so we can help you exercise your rights.

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