While Bishop Accountability, an organization that tracks accusations, lists more than 6,400 priests or other Catholic Church personnel who have been accused of sexual abuse since the release of a breakthrough study, no database tracks how many priests have been prosecuted for child abuse. However, the majority of clergy sexual abuse cases have not been criminally prosecuted for a variety of reasons.
Child abuse in the Catholic Church continues to be a subject that is hard for many victims to discuss, let alone report. Efforts to uncover the extent of the abuse and provide support for victims and accountability for users have continued since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a study in 2004 (and updated in 2010) conducted by John Jay College that focused on the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and deacons. Since then, many organizations have kept records and expanded on efforts to uncover abuse.
One organization that anyone can check for more information about specific cases is Bishop Accountability. It maintains a repository of case information for as many of the thousands of civil lawsuits filed nationwide as the organization can find. While it is hard to be sure exactly how many priests have been prosecuted for child abuse, the number continues to grow as reporting increases and more clergy people are held accountable.
Types of Clergy Abuse
The abuse that happens at the hands of clergy people covers several categories:
- Physical abuse: Any means of causing trauma or an injury through physical means is included in physical abuse. It is considered separate from sexual abuse or sexual assault.
- Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse involves forcing sexual actions on another person. This can include unwanted sexual touching, kissing, and other actions that are explicitly sexual in nature.
- Sexual assault: Sexual assault is the broadest term to describe similar acts. It can include any action that involves forced sexual actions, including rape and sexual abuse.
- Rape: Rape is a specific form of sexual assault. It covers sexual acts that involve penetration to any degree.
- Child abuse: Child abuse is abuse targeted specifically at children. Children are generally defined as a person under the age of 18.
- Adult abuse: Adult abuse is abuse targeted at anyone over the age of majority, which depends on where the abuse took place.
There are other forms of abuse that are not covered on this list. Any form of abuse should be reported to give victims the chance to seek help when they need it. Many cases do not get reported, though. Victims continue to keep their abuse a secret, which often leads to problems in the future.
One of the problems that victims face when filing clergy abuse lawsuits is the issue of liability. While liability is not usually a problem when suing an abuser, the Catholic Church is a large and multilayered organization. Its structure can make it difficult to determine liability beyond the abuser.
Child abuse is one of the harder cases to file since witness testimony and victim testimony can present specific challenges. The Washington University School of Law studies the impact of civil lawsuits against the church and how liability plays an important role in the process. Because of the effort to cover up clergy abuse, every case should investigate the leadership within the specific church, as well as up the ladder to the diocese level.
If a church leader (other than the abuser) fails to report a case or attempts to cover it up, then the church itself could be held liable. If convicted, the penalties that the church could pay are extensive. This creates a problem for individual churches—and in some cases, even imperils the Catholic Church as a whole. The amounts paid in settlements for the priests that have been prosecuted for child abuse threatens to make the Catholic Church insolvent.
Regardless of its effect on the Catholic Church, abuse cannot be overlooked. Many clergy people are working to change church policy so that it will protect parishioners instead of covering up abuse. It remains to be seen if these efforts will have the lasting effect that many hoped.
When to Seek Legal Action
If you or a loved one suffered abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest or other clergy member, please seek help from law enforcement. The emotional, mental, and physical harm that can happen to victims can result in trauma that changes the victim’s life. Long-term treatments may be necessary to mitigate the damage, and a civil lawsuit can provide the funds for treatment.
Some states recently have recognized the damage that clergy abuse causes victims by changing statute-of-limitations laws specifically for these claims. At the very least, speaking with a lawyer can help you understand if you have a case and what your legal options are. Many lawyers provide free consultations, so there is little barrier to getting help.
Contact Us Today
If you or a loved one is the victim of clergy abuse, you might want to consult a lawyer to see what legal options you have. You might be able to file a lawsuit against your abuser and the Catholic Church if it tried to hide the abuse. Call Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today at (800) 794-0444 to speak to our legal team about your case. The consultation is free, and we can help you seek compensation that can help with any treatment needs that you might have.