Scoutmasters, teachers, coaches, and members of the clergy—these are people we trust unconditionally to help mold our children into responsible, caring members of society. Furthermore, these are the people who spend nearly as much time collectively with our children as we do. When the trust we place in these adults turns out to be misplaced, we are left feeling a range of emotions, from anguish to rage. This is perfectly normal—and is what many parents felt after learning that their child was sexually abused by a priest.
The Diocese of Birmingham encompasses the northern half of Alabama, and was finally forced to reckon with its own priest sexual abuse scandal in recent years.
At the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we’re committed to helping survivors of sexual abuse. Please call our Diocese of Birmingham sexual abuse lawyers today for a completely confidential, free case consultation. We’ll listen to your story and see what we can do to help you get the justice you desire.
Decades of Coverup Resulted in Continued Sexual Abuse in Birmingham
When the Boston Globe first published a piece about priest sexual abuse in the Boston Diocese, Cardinal Bernard Law insisted that the accusations against former priest John J. Geoghan constituted an isolated case of abuse. However, as we have learned over the years, there was a pattern in the Archdiocese of Boston (and others) of covering up accusations of sexual abuse by offering quiet settlements to the parents of victims for decades.
Once parents accepted a settlement offered by the church, they were required to sign agreements never to make the accusations public. The Church would then quietly assign the accused priests to different areas of the country. There is every reason to believe that the Birmingham Diocese acted in the same manner as Boston and others who faced similar challenges.
Abused Birmingham Children Began Speaking out as They Grew Older, Placing the Scandal in the Public Eye
Children tend to not tell parents or other adults about sexual abuse because they don’t think anyone will believe them. Unfortunately, too many parents are unaware of some signs that could indicate that their child is a victim of sexual abuse. For decades, many children who suffered abuse by a priest or other clergy members hid their stories. Once these children became adults, however, and more of them started going public, thousands of other victims found their voices, and what appeared to be an isolated incident turned into a full-blown public scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church to its core.
Birmingham Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal Becomes Public
While there are hundreds of news stories that indicate sexual abuse was occurring in the Catholic Church for decades, it was not until 1985 when the first scandal was made public. While this initial incident was specific to Louisiana, it did not take long before the scandal rocked several states and became public in many places around the world. It was not until 2018 that the Birmingham Diocese finally came forward with a list of priests accused of sexual abuse.
Four of the six names on this list were priests who had since passed away. The remaining two had been defrocked, one in 1985 and one in 2002. Unfortunately, once the Birmingham Diocese was pushed for additional disclosures, it turns out the abuse allegations were not limited to these six priests; in total, 11 priests had claims filed against them.
Victim Payouts Not Uncommon to Silence Allegations
While the Birmingham Diocese has paid out relatively little in claims, as little as $45,000, the public doesn’t really know the full extent of potential victims. One priest who was accused, Rev. Charles V. Cross, had more than 16 assignments beginning in 1960 through the date he was permanently relieved of his duties in 2002.
Information from BishopAccountability.org states this came long after he was prohibited from serving at a parish in 1985 due to numerous sexual abuse complaints that had been lodged against him.
Payouts were common among parishes who wished to keep allegations of abuse quiet, so there are no readily accessible records that would allow the public to determine how many other priests had allegations buried through the use of payouts and transfers to other parishes.
Statutes of Limitations Work Against Victims of Birmingham Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse victims seldom come forward when their abuse is occurring. In fact, this has been proven time and time again through the years. Some reasons that victims share for not coming forward include because they feel ashamed, they have been threatened by their abusers, or they fear that no one will believe them. This phenomenon can be problematic since nearly every state has strict time limitations for when victims must report their abuse, including sexual abuse or rape.
These statutes of limitations work against victims, because even when victims reported the crime, there is little chance that the perpetrator of the abuse would actually face charges. This may be changing on a broad scale, however, particularly since the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal and other large-scale sexual abuse scandals have swept the nation.
CHILD USAdvocacy is working to change how the statute of limitations is applied in cases of child sexual abuse. The organization is doing this by publishing op-eds, lobbying local and state leaders, and more. Last year, 38 states and the District of Columbia were considering changes to their statutes of limitations, according to an investigative report issued by The Atlantic.
Did Victims’ Demographics Play a Factor in Disclosures?
An audit of sexual abuse allegations that were investigated independently by Stonebridge Business Partners may provide some insight into why the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal went un-publicized for so long.
Some of the organization’s findings show us the demographics of the abuse victims:
- 82 percent of the victims were male.
- 59 percent of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 14.
- 19 percent of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 17.
- 22 percent of the victims were 9 years old or younger.
These stats show us that it is more than likely that these victims turned to family members, and that those family members in turn went to the church with the information. However, what we have learned throughout this scandal is that the perpetrators of sexual abuse were often given “treatment” for sexual deviancy in the form of counseling and transferred to other parishes.
Despite this supposed counseling, the abuse continued in the new parish. If another accusation arose, the Church would transfer the perpetrator again. It was not until the rampant sexual abuse in the Catholic Church became public knowledge that some perpetrators were defrocked instead of being transferred. This is although many in the Church continued to express the belief that these incidents were limited.
It’s important to note that Birmingham Catholic Churches were not the only ones rocked by claims of priest sexual abuse. Other religious orders have also had to come to grips with similar allegations among their current and former parishioners. These revelations led to a summit among religious leaders in 2019 where a foundation for dealing with accusations was established for all denominations.
Birmingham Victims Demand Relief and Justice
Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) was formed in 2017 as a way of allowing victims to seek immediate changes in the way the Catholic Church handled abuse allegations. ECA’s primary goal is to provide a safe haven for victims across the globe and to ensure that the Church upholds the rights of victims by ensuring that victims’ voices are heard, that a publicly available database of accused priests is compiled, and that victims are compensated. The compensation part of victims’ rights is complicated; while the Catholic Church has reportedly paid millions in settlements to victims of priest sexual abuse, countless victims have yet to see justice in any form.
Late last year, Market Watch published a piece indicating that various dioceses across the United States were dealing with more than 5,000 claims of reported sexual abuse. These claims were the result of more than 15 states enacting changes to their statutes of limitations. It is believed that these claims could cost the Catholic Church as much as $4 billion.
In response to these claims, the Catholic Church has gone to extraordinary means to minimize the settlements that victims are demanding in return for years of abuse. Bankruptcy filings, reclassification of assets, and moving assets are just a few of the tactics that the Church is using to shield its assets in the hopes of minimizing its losses from settling the thousands of cases that continue to emerge.
Priests are still facing criminal charges for their behavior, some of which include the abuse of adults.
Why Birmingham Sex Abuse Survivors Need a Legal Advocate
For decades, victims of priest sexual abuse in Birmingham and across the country have had no place to turn. In addition to fearing not being believed, these victims have had to live with the aftermath of the abuse that they’ve suffered, often alone. Broken relationships, mental health issues that make it difficult to hold down a job, and incidents of drug and alcohol abuse have run rampant among Catholic Church sexual abuse victims. Today, more than ever, these victims need to work with a priest sexual abuse attorney who will treat them with compassion and understanding.
Accountability is important when someone has been victimized by a priest. Victims need to know that someone believes them and is willing to hear their stories, help them understand their legal rights, and make sure they understand all of their available options for pursuing justice and compensation.
Survivors of priest sexual abuse in Birmingham, and across the country, need someone who is not only compassionate, but also has experience representing survivors. A diligent lawyer can make all the difference in outcomes for victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Legal Action Can Help Reshape a Birmingham Survivor’s Future
No amount of compensation or justice will ever replace the loss of innocence, restore trust in the church, or ease the pain and suffering victims have faced for decades following abuse at the hands of a Birmingham priest. However, such compensation and justice can help victims get back on a somewhat even footing.
Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest or another clergy member need appropriate counseling, which has been denied to many because they have stalwartly refused to out their accusers. Coming forward and speaking your truth is an act of courage and bravery. Everyone understands it is difficult to come forward years, or even decades, later and talk about the horrific treatment that you suffered at the hands of a trusted leader in the community. However, only by taking control of your story and having the courage to face head-on the reality of your pain will most victims find a way to move forward with their lives.
Whether you are a recent victim of Birmingham priest sexual abuse, or your abuse occurred decades ago, you need to understand your legal options. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, priest sexual abuse lawyers are standing by, ready to help you begin your path to recovery and help you maximize the compensation you receive for the pain, trauma, and ongoing problems that you’ve faced as a result of your abuse.
Call Our Birmingham Sexual Abuse Attorneys Today
Remember, the laws that cover seeking justice for past clergy sexual abuse continue to evolve as the scandal becomes more well-known and understood. If you were a victim, and you are uncertain what rights you have, seek guidance from an attorney who has experience representing victims of clergy sexual abuse. These attorneys understand that coming forward is traumatic and that the decision is both personal and emotional.
If you have questions about seeking legal remedies for clergy sexual abuse, contact a Birmingham priest sexual abuse lawyer at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today. You can reach us at 833-552-7274, or you can write to us using our online contact page, and our compassionate Birmingham priest sexual abuse attorneys will discuss your case with you at any time.