In a damning report issued by the Maryland Attorney General’s office, state investigators uncovered decades of sexual abuse of children involving 156 clergy members of the Catholic Church. Not only does the report accuse clergy of sexually abusing and exploiting children, but it also documents the Church’s role in covering up allegations against the perpetrators of the abuse. In effect, this has left hundreds of survivors to suffer in silence while incurring significant emotional and financial damages.
Survivors of child sexual abuse deserve the opportunity to hold their abusers accountable. One way to do this is to pursue compensation for damages in a personal injury lawsuit. If you or your child have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a member of the clergy, you should reach out to a personal injury lawyer with experience handling child sexual abuse lawsuits. They will have the necessary skill set to determine if you have a viable claim and how much your damages may be worth.
Catholic Church Concealed Evidence of Sexual Abuse of Hundreds of Children
Child sexual abuse is defined as a sexual encounter between an adult and a child. Sexual abuse may include physical actions such as groping or penetration, but also includes other actions such as an adult their exposing genitals to a child, showing a child pornographic material, or observing them undressing. It can involve emotional manipulation, physical violence, and other coercive tactics.
On April 5th, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown’s office published a scathing account of the history of sexual abuse among members of Maryland’s Catholic clergy. The report takes aim at the perpetrators of the abuse, which include deacons, priests, and teachers, as well as church leadership that concealed or ignored complaints. Investigators noted that the abusers often used their religious authority to silence survivors. Another strategy employed by Church leadership was to move problematic clergy to new positions away from children if they were unable to dispel the allegations.
Sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is a well-documented occurrence, but the scope of abuse revealed in this report is particularly horrific. An astounding 600 children were victims of this abuse according to the Attorney General’s report, although that number is almost certainly much higher. The report accounts for cases between 1940 and 2002 and explicitly names nearly all of the abusers. While this is certainly an important step toward transparency and justice, the survivors of this abuse are still left to deal with the aftermath of their trauma, which can involve emotional, physical, and monetary losses.
Recovering Damages in a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
The consequences of experiencing sexual abuse as a child can be profound, and life-long. The report notes many examples of physical abuse, as well as exposure to drugs and alcohol. This can have a negative impact on the physical health of a child, not to mention lasting emotional consequences.
Survivors of child sexual abuse may struggle with depression, addiction, and self-harm, among other issues. These issues can cause survivors to incur medical bills and struggle to perform at work. In a personal injury lawsuit, survivors may be able to recover compensation for economic damages, or financial losses, in addition to non-economic damages for emotional losses.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may be entitled to compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Lab tests
- Hospital stays
- Job-related losses
- Missed promotions
- Lost wages
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
The Role of Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits
There are a number of reasons why a survivor may not disclose that they are being abused for years, or even decades after the abuse occurred. A child may not report sexual abuse because they are:
- Too young to recognize it as abuse
- Intimidated or have been coerced into silence
- Afraid of the stigma surrounding sexual contact, particularly in a faith-based setting
Even after becoming an adult, many child sexual abuse survivors want to repress these memories and avoid distressing their families. In some cases, children do report the abuse, but they are dismissed or bullied into silence. Based on our growing understanding of this issue, more states are recognizing the importance of giving survivors the time they need to come forward.
There is currently legislation in process in Maryland that will eliminate the existing restrictions on survivors who want to pursue civil lawsuits against entities like the Catholic Church for enabling abusers. The bill, the Child Victim’s Act, is receiving additional attention in light of the Attorney General’s report. Potential plaintiffs should be mindful of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, as it varies by state.
Filing a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
In the case of the Maryland clergy, many of the perpetrators of the abuse are deceased. Instead of targeting individual abusers, the focus of most clergy sexual abuse lawsuits is the institution that covered up the wrongdoing. That means that in order for a plaintiff to hold an institution, such as the Archdiocese of Baltimore, liable for damages they must demonstrate that church leadership was aware or should have been aware of the abuse.
The clergy child sexual abuse lawsuits are civil claims, which have a lower burden of proof for plaintiffs. Survivors must be able to demonstrate that the institution is more likely than not informed of the abuse to meet the evidentiary standard. Additionally, they must be able to show documentation of how the sexual abuse has caused them physical, financial, or emotional harm.
Child sexual abuse claims are often complex due to the length of time that has elapsed since the incident, the sensitive nature of the issue, and the extensiveness of the damages sustained. A personal injury lawyer with a proven track record of settling child sexual abuse claims is the most qualified person to offer advice on the legal process and the value of your claim. They will be able to provide the expert insight, resources, and negotiation skills needed to maximize your compensation and hold the negligent parties accountable.