Clergy members are trusted by their congregations and communities. When a clergy member betrays that trust and abuses an individual, the results are widespread, long-term, and horrific.
Many sexual abuse victims are children. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that 67% of sexual assault victims who reported their crimes to U.S. law enforcement were minors at the time of the crime. However, the number of abused children is likely even higher because child sexual abuse is underreported, poorly tracked, and inadequately researched. Child sexual abuse victims may be unaware or not fully cognizant that what they experienced was a crime, too, so they never report it.
Waves of investigations over the last decade have exposed the horrific truth about clergy sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church and other religious institutions. Reports have uncovered that church authorities often knew about incidents of abuse and tried to cover them up. This involvement can make the religious institutions themselves defendants in any consequent sexual abuse lawsuits brought forth by abuser survivors in pursuit of justice and fair compensation for what they have endured.
Until recently, victims of clergy members’ sexual abuse had no effective legal recourse because criminal remedies were limited, and civil lawsuits may not be possible due to an expired statute of limitations. However, many states have recently amended laws to eliminate or greatly expand the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in civil courts, which allows more victims to seek justice and compensation. New York and New Jersey have completely eliminated the statute of limitations on abuse lawsuits, for example.
Symptoms of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Children who have been sexually abused may display a wide range of emotional and behavioral reactions, which may include:
- Insomnia and night terrors
- Mood swing, especially uncharacteristic self-isolation
- Secrecy and hesitance to disclose any information
- Retractions of abuse statements
- Mental health difficulties like anxiety and depression
- Fear of being left alone with a specific person
- Knowledge of sexual behaviors that should not be known by a young child
Studies reveal that the majority of sexually abused children do not reveal the abuse during childhood. If they come forth with the report, it is far more likely that they will do so when they are an adult and have had the opportunity to reexamine the attack from a mature, informed perspective.
Clergy Abuse Exposed: A Timeline
In 2002, a widespread cover-up by church officials of sexual abuse by a Boston priest was uncovered and reported by the Boston Globe. The investigation revealed that since the mid-1990s, more than 130 people came forward and reported horrific incidents of sexual abuse by former priest John J. Geoghan, who allegedly fondled or raped them during the three-decade period that the priest served at a half dozen Boston parishes.
In 2013, Minnesota became the fourth state to create a temporary window in its civil statute of limitations to allow child sexual abuse victims to have their day in court. Before 2013, victims only had until age 24 to file a lawsuit, even though advocates had consistently argued and studies had revealed that it can take many years for survivors to report their abuse.
Within three years of Minnesota’s legislature revising the law, more than 850 sexual abuse claims were filed under the revised Minnesota law. Roughly 500 of those claims were brought against Minnesota Roman Catholic clergy. In New Jersey, the state passed its Child Victims Act, which has allowed more than 1,200 lawsuits to be filed, and two-thirds of those named as abusers were religious entities.
In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report that detailed 70 years of childhood sexual abuse and coverups in six of the seven Pennsylvania dioceses. The report accused more than 300 clergy members of abuse and said there were at least 1,000 child victims. The grand jury said: “We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid to ever come forward is in the thousands. Priests were r---ing little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”
The grand jury also described the churches’ methods as “a playbook for concealing the truth” after FBI agents uncovered practices detailed in internal reports. The report detailed the cover-up: “Several diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation or conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the report the “largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States.” After the report was released, six of the seven Philadelphia dioceses established compensation funds for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
In 2018, plaintiffs successfully sued a member of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation who had sexually abused them for 13 years while they were children and received a multimillion-dollar judgment. The two victims alleged that the congregation’s decision to handle the matter internally rather than contacting law enforcement allowed the abuse to continue. The Montana Supreme Court later reversed the judgment.
More examples of child sex abuse cases against religious institutions in recent years include:
- In 2018, Michigan officials launched an investigation and found that 454 priests had abused 811 victims.
- In 2019, an Ohio Methodist pastor was accused of sexual harassment but was only going to face a ‘church trial’ if he did not resign.
- There have also been allegations of sexual abuse within the United Methodist Church and within the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years.
- In 2019, Colorado’s attorney general opened an investigation into abusive clergy members and found 52 priests had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
- In early 2021, Wisconsin’s attorney general Josh Kaul announced an investigation into claims of clergy abuse and the systemic cover-up that occurred for decades.
- In November 2021, Nebraska’s attorney general published a report that identified 57 priests and other Catholic officials that are responsible for allegedly sexually abusing more than 250 victims.
How GoldenbergLaw Can Help You
If you or a loved one was abused by a clergy member, contact the Minnesota clergy sexual abuse lawsuit attorneys at GoldenbergLaw. Our team has provided the Gold standard of advocacy to our clients for more than 35 years. We have the knowledge and experience to help you pursue the justice you deserve, and we have the compassion and care to make the process as stress-free as possible.
Contact us today for a free consultation!
- “Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics” (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- “Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse: What Does the Research Tell Us About the Ways That Children Tell?” (ResearchGate)
- “Church allowed abuse by priest for years” (Boston Globe)
- “More than 800 sex abuse claims filed under Minnesota law” (StarTribune)
- “As sex abuse lawsuit window closes, long road for victims” (AP News)
- “Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report” (Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General)
- “Report details sexual abuse by more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church” (CNN)
- “’Men of God hit it all’: Church protected more than 300 ‘predator priests’ in Pa., grand jury says” (USA Today)
- “Montana Court Reserves $35 Million Child Abuse Verdict Against Jehovah’s Witnesses” (NPR)
- “Wisconsin’s attorney general is investigating the handling of clergy abuse claims. Six months in, here is what we know.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
- “’Methodist sexual harassment Me too’ article” (The New York Times)
- “Sexual Misconduct in the United Methodist Church: US Update” (United Methodist Church)
- “A Report from the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group” (Caring Well)
- “Opinion: Another state, another clergy sex abuse scandal” (The Washington Post)
- “Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse” (Nebraska Office of Attorney General)