According to an extensive study produced by John Jay College for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, about 4 percent of priests in ministry from the study period (1950-2002) were accused of sexual abuse.
Stories of priests abusing children had circulated for a long time, but it was not until the 1950s that this trend began to receive attention within the Catholic Church. In the 1990s, the problem exploded with wide-scale reporting of abuse at the hands of priests. Since then, the legal system and advocates for abuse victims made a serious impact on ending the abuse, with significant declines over the next 10 years. However, abuse by clergy members is still a massive problem, with thousands of reported cases each year.
As the percentage of Catholic priests who have been accused of abuse increased, more clergy members were held accountable for their actions. More people filed reports of abuse, and this accountability contributes to the reduction in the overall number of abuse cases.
Research Facts About Clergy Abuse
Organizations across the country have researched clergy abuse to find new ways of preventing problems and helping victims. Some of their findings show:
- Women are at higher risk: Research for the book When Pastors Prey that conducted interviews with victims and analyzed reports estimates that 90-95% of victims of clergy sex abuse worldwide were women.
- Men are also at risk: Although the risk is lower, it is still a sizable risk for men to be abused by clergy as well. The John Jay study found that 80% of abusive acts by Catholic clergy happened to boys.
- Men are less likely to report: A joint study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that men are far less likely to report abuse than women are.
- Reporting rates are low: Regardless of gender, reporting rates remain low. The overall reporting rate of all sexual abuse cases to police in 2018 was below 30%.
- Police rarely contacted about clergy abuse: The John Jay study found that police were contacted in only 5.7% of incidents, while more than one-fourth of the incidents were not disclosed prior to the study’s release. If these numbers remain low, there is a slim chance that law enforcement can fully resolve this problem
There are many other findings from research into clergy abuse that are not covered on this list. Ongoing research can produce a more accurate understanding of the percentage of Catholic priests who committed abuse. Still, law enforcement is having a sizable impact on reducing the number of abuse cases.
Understanding Clergy Abuse
There have been many attempts to understand and explain clergy abuse. While there are no excuses for it, it is important to learn why and how clergy abuse happens. This information helps people to be more prepared to stop the abuse from happening. A comprehensive Vox magazine report offers a plausible explanation for why the percentage of Catholic priests who have been accused of abuse remained low for so long: a concentrated cover-up.
It is not a secret that parts of the Catholic Church tried to cover up abuse cases. However, many people remain unsure how the cover-up worked or if it continues. Many times, when church leadership received reports of abuse, they handled the allegation without contacting the police. Instead, church leadership moved clergy people to new positions in different areas to stop all contact with their previous victims. Unfortunately, many of these new positions created fresh opportunities for abuse.
Many cases were kept quiet through settlement agreements with the victims. Coupled with the potential shame that many victims felt and social pressures not to report the abuse, cases went unresolved for decades. Many of these victims also did not get the help that they needed.
Understanding Your Rights
If you suffered abuse by a member of the clergy, then they committed a felony and could face criminal charges if you report it. However, you also have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against your abuser and anyone who tried to cover up the abuse. A personal injury lawyer can help you understand the specifics of building a case and determine if you have a case to file. Consulting a lawyer can also help with the stress of the situation. Relieving this stress can be one of the first steps in seeking closure and holding abusers responsible.
Long-Term Impacts of Clergy Abuse
Clergy abuse usually has long-term impacts on the victims. Many victims do not report the abuse, leading to situations where they keep everything bottled up, including serious trauma. Addressing these problems often requires mental healthcare, but treatment can be expensive and difficult for anyone with traumatic experiences. These problems usually persist well into adulthood and have a serious impact, making it hard to stay employed or have meaningful relationships with others.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for personal injury cases is generally short, but clergy abuse cases often have much longer deadlines. The actual statute of limitations, or the legal time limit that victims have to file lawsuits, depends on where you reside and where the abuse happened. Most states follow a long-term rule of around 30 years from when the victim turns 18. That means that you have until around the age of 48 to file a lawsuit for clergy abuse in most places.
Contact a Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
If you or a loved one was abused by a clergy person, you may want to consult a lawyer to learn what your legal options are. You may be entitled to compensation for expenses related to the abuse and receiving treatment. Contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 794-0444 to discuss your case with our legal team.