In 2014, the New York Daily News and other websites published information about a Vatican report saying 848 priests had been defrocked and another 2,572 suffered lesser sanctions over a 10-year period because of accusations of clergy abuse. The Catholic Church has not released updated information since that report.
Many victims have filed lawsuits regarding clergy abuse. However, it does not take a successful lawsuit to have a priest defrocked (removed from the clergy). There have been many priests defrocked for their involvement in abuse cases and questionable leadership skills regarding these cases.
Bishop Accountability is a nonprofit group that follows the efforts to hold priests accountable. It also keeps lists of as many cases of abuse, lawsuits, and resolutions as it can find. While it is difficult to determine exactly how many cases resulted in having priests defrocked, that number seems to be growing as more lawsuits are filed.
The Process of Defrocking
Defrocking a priest is a serious matter within the Catholic Church and is a step that is not taken lightly. Credible accusations can result in removal of the clergy member from their position into a role that does not focus on parishioners. Churches have procedures for managing investigations internally.
In the event of a credible accusation, the accused is typically not allowed to actively minister. Churches may request information from the congregation at the priest’s current location, as well as members of other locations where the priest previously served.
While collecting evidence for this internal review, a review board can bring in experts to weigh in on evidence.
However, the church has not established a set definition for “credibly accused,” with each bishop able to determine the standard for his diocese. A credible accusation within the Church does not necessarily correlate with the success of a criminal case, according to the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. A priest under review may still face defrocking (also known as laicization in the Catholic Church) even if the legal cases against the clergy member are unsuccessful.
Since 2002, all U.S. dioceses must report allegations of sexual abuse of minors to an independent review board, and many also notify local law enforcement and child protective agencies. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created the National Review Board to handle these matters and help protect children.
Priests and other leadership positions that participate in cover-ups may face laicization and serious legal problems. It is important to note that the processes followed by religious institutions are not a substitute for legal procedures. Some of the procedures taken by one diocese can differ from another.
Each case regarding defrocking is unique and will be treated differently depending on the situation. If you have information about a possible clergy abuse case or you were abused, speak to law enforcement and a lawyer to see what you can do next.
Prevalence of Clergy Abuse
The understanding of how prevalent clergy abuse has changed significantly. This is because there are problems with the reporting of cases. The majority of victims do not report abuse and news reports about ongoing problems are flawed at times. USA Today printed a fixed version of an earlier report discussing how 1,700 accused priests are not being monitored and have access to children.
Although this report had an error in it, it still highlights an important point: there is not enough being done about these abuse allegations. The number of priests defrocked or otherwise removed from the Church is shocking, but they can still go on to commit similar crimes because they still have access to potential victims, mostly children. It also shows that the amount of abuse happening is far greater than most people expected it to be.
Dangers of Clergy Abuse
Clergy abuse creates specific dangers for children and young adults. One of the problems that make clergy abuse so dangerous is that most people do not suspect their priest of being an abuser, especially not children. Because of this, few people are guarded enough to prevent abuse from priests or respond to it when it happens.
Abuse can also cause long-term behavioral and psychological problems in victims. It can take years of intensive treatment to get their lives back on track. In some cases, treatment becomes a permanent issue.
Discussing Your Case With a Legal Representative
If you or a loved one is the victim of clergy abuse, consult a lawyer to see what your legal options are. Contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 794-0444 to speak to our legal team about your case.