The sexual abuse of a young parishioner by a member of the clergy represents the most egregious physical, emotional, and spiritual violation imaginable. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse carry the scars of a church’s betrayal for their entire lives. For decades, they and their families also largely suffered in silence. Since the turn of the century, however, the movement to hold individual clergy and their church organizations accountable has finally reached full-steam.
Allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic Church clergy have emerged throughout the United States and around the world, as reported by the survivor advocacy website BishopAccountability.org. In some of those cases, the accounts of brave survivors have led to criminal charges and convictions of their abusers. In others, survivors and their attorneys have held the Church accountable through the civil litigation process.
Recently, some states have begun to pass laws that make it possible to pursue legal claims for clergy sexual abuse even if the abuse occurred long ago. These laws have given survivors new tools to fight for justice and compensation from Church organizations alleged to have betrayed them.
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman represent survivors of clergy sexual abuse throughout the United States in seeking accountability from the Church. If you or a family member thinks it is time to step forward with an allegation of sexual abuse by a clergy member, then we invite you to contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation with a sexual abuse attorney.
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman are affiliated, Florida-based law firms that exclusively represent victims of personal injury and tragedy. One of the most important and personally-significant areas of our practice involves representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse. We understand the immense courage and strength it takes to reveal a personal history of clergy abuse. As attorneys, our job is to advise clergy abuse survivors of their rights to compensation and help them seek justice in the manner they choose.
Our firms have a long track record of success. We have recovered tens of millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts on behalf of clients injured by all manner of carelessness and intentional wrongdoing. Our past successes cannot guarantee the outcome of any future matter, but when clients choose us they get a law firm with the experience, resources, and know-how to tackle the most personally and legally difficult matters. We do our jobs with empathy, compassion, and determination, and never shy away from standing up to the most powerful institutions.
Statute of Limitation Reform Gives Survivors a Path to Justice
Historically, the passage of time has presented one of the most significant obstacles faced by survivors of clergy sexual abuse who wish to seek justice through a legal process. Many survivors endured abuse when they were minors but only became willing and able to disclose the abuse in adulthood. When they did step forward, they frequently found their access to the legal system barred by the “statute of limitations” for both civil and criminal legal actions. Time had run out on seeking any kind of meaningful justice through the courts. This lack of legal options acted as a significant deterrent to reporting past clergy sexual abuse, according to advocates.
Fortunately, that situation has begun to change. As reported by the children’s advocacy organization ChildUSA, states across the nation have begun to pass laws rolling back criminal and civil statutes of limitation on childhood sexual assault claims, including those involving clergy sexual abuse.
This means that in an increasing number of states, prosecutors can file criminal charges against perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse that occurred long ago, and survivors of clergy sexual abuse can file suits for damages that might otherwise have been barred under “standard” statutes of limitation for civil claims. Additionally, some states have passed laws expanding statutes of limitation for claims against organizations that facilitated or turned a blind eye to clergy sexual abuse, giving survivors expanded options to bring suit not just against an individual perpetrator, but also against church institutions.
The rollback of statutes of limitation for civil claims gives survivors of clergy sexual abuse an especially powerful weapon because of the “burden of proof” in civil cases. While prosecutors have broad authority to file criminal charges, to convict they must prove the guilt of a perpetrator or accomplice “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That is a high burden that is often difficult to meet when an incident of clergy sexual abuse occurred decades ago. In contrast, in most states the burden of proof in civil cases seeking damages and other relief for clergy sexual abuse is proof “by a preponderance of the evidence” (another way of saying “more likely than not”). That is a lower bar to clear, making it theoretically easier to prove a civil claim than a criminal one.
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman attorneys keep a constant eye on legislative developments nationwide, to ensure that anyone who seeks our help coming forward with a clergy sexual abuse claims receives sound and up-to-date advice about options for seeking compensation. When you are ready, the most reliable way to determine which state’s laws might apply to a potential civil claim for clergy sexual abuse, and whether that state has relaxed its statute of limitations for those claims, is to consult with one of our experienced, compassionate attorneys.
Legal Remedies for Clergy Sexual Abuse
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse often wonder whether coming forward with their claim is “worth it.” There is no “correct” answer to that question. At Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, we never pressure anyone to take legal action asserting a claim for clergy sexual abuse. Our goal is to give survivors clear, understandable legal advice about their options, and, only if they so choose, to help them take the legal steps to hold clergy and church institutions accountable in court.
If a client decides to move forward with a civil claim, we may advise them to seek a range of “remedies” for the harm allegedly inflicted upon them by a member of the clergy and/or a church institution. The principle remedy survivors of clergy abuse typically seek consists of money damages, which aim to compensate them for:
- The costs of past and future mental health counseling and other therapy;
- The pain and suffering of the abuse and its aftermath;
- Harm done to personal relationships; and
- If available, statutory and/or punitive damages.
We recognize, of course, that money cannot erase the past or mend the scars of clergy sexual abuse. But it can provide survivors and their families with the financial support necessary to achieve a measure of peace.
Money damages are not necessarily the only form of remedy available in a civil action for clergy sexual abuse, either. Survivors may also seek “injunctive relief,” which is the legal terminology for a court order directing someone to do something. In clergy sexual abuse matters, some survivors have won “injunctions” against church institutions requiring them to take affirmative steps to help prevent abuse in the future.
As attorneys for brave clergy abuse survivors, we advocate for the outcome that best serves our client’s wishes. We understand that taking legal action for past clergy abuse is a highly personal decision that survivors undertake for a wide range of reasons, and with a wide variety of goals. No matter the type of remedy survivors choose to seek in a civil matter, however, we find that they frequently take comfort in knowing their efforts will, at least in some small way, help to protect others from enduring the trauma of abuse.
Although it is typically more difficult to prove criminal charges than a civil claim, prosecutors have pursued criminal cases against individual clergy members. The more recently the abuse occurred, the more likely it is for prosecutors to want to move forward. Of course, to succeed in a prosecution of a perpetrator of clergy sexual abuse, prosecutors usually need the cooperation of one or more survivor. Prosecutors usually also leave it up to each individual survivor to decide the extent of cooperation to give.
Cooperating with a criminal prosecution typically does not affect a clergy sexual abuse survivor’s right to seek remedies in a civil case. But there can be some challenges in coordinating civil and criminal cases to make sure justice is done in both, and that they don’t get in the way of one another. At Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, we have the necessary experience and familiarity in navigating the cross-currents of civil and criminal law to advise our clients about how to pursue a legal strategy that achieves the ends of civil and criminal justice, if that is the path our client chooses to take.
Getting Started Seeking Legal Accountability for Clergy Sexual Abuse
More than most other types of matters we handle at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, getting started seeking legal accountability for clergy sexual abuse can feel overwhelming for our clients. We encourage survivors contemplating legal action like we’ve described above to have an emotional support system, including the services of a trained mental health counselor, in place before coming to see us. To make the most of any legal service we provide, it is important for our clients to be in a frame of mind in which they feel prepared and supported in making important decisions.
The next step in seeking justice and accountability through the legal process is to schedule a meeting with an experienced, compassionate clergy sexual abuse attorney. Rest assured, if you meet with a lawyer from Dolman Law Group or Sibley Dolman the meeting will be strictly confidential. We also will not charge you for the meeting, and our consultation will not create any obligation on your part. The purpose of the meeting is for us to listen, to answer questions, and, if you ask, to give you our initial impression of your potential legal options.
If you choose to move forward with retaining an attorney to pursue money damages arising out of a case of clergy sexual abuse, the next step typically is for your attorney to investigate and compile evidence to support your claims. This can be a difficult process for the survivor, which is one of the reasons we encourage our clients to have an emotional support system in place. An experienced clergy sexual abuse attorney will give the client clear, honest, straightforward advice about what the evidence shows and whether it can support a claim.
If it does, then you and your attorney will likely discuss your options for moving forward, including who might have a legal liability to you, how you might present your claim, an estimation of the damages you might seek, and any complications or roadblocks the attorney anticipates. Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman attorneys do their best to present clients with clear choices and understandable advice so that clients can make the decision that best suits their goals for holding the church and clergy accountable for clergy sexual abuse.
Attorneys for Survivors of Catholic Church Sexual Abuse
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman have decades of experience providing legal advice to people going through some of the most challenging times of their lives. We consider representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse to be some of the most important work we do. Anyone brave enough to come forward with an allegation of clergy sexual abuse deserves the best possible legal representation to support them and help them choose the path that best suits their goals for holding the perpetrators accountable.
If you have questions about seeking legal remedies for alleged Catholic Church sexual abuse, then the lawyers at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman want to help you understand your options. We have offices on both coasts of Florida, and you can also reach out to us online or by phone at 833-552-7274. Contact us today to schedule your confidential, free, no-obligation consultation.