The profound physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma inflicted when clergy members sexually abuse young parishioners is devastating. Clergy who commit these heinous acts should be brought to justice. Church institutions also often owe a legal and moral obligation to pay damages to survivors of abuse perpetrated by clergy members. In the past, however, survivors of clergy sexual abuse and prosecutors have faced significant challenges in pursuing abusers through the legal process. In Minnesota, that is beginning to change.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the Roman Catholic Church has been the focus of public attention on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. The accountability organization BishopAccountability.org lists all five Minnesota Dioceses (Crookston, Duluth, New Ulm, St. Cloud, and Winona), as well as the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, as having employed priests accused (and in some cases convicted) of sexual misconduct over many years. Other faith communities have seen a need to address clergy sexual abuse within their clerical ranks, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church, as well as some American Jewish and Muslim congregations.
In 2013, the Minnesota legislature passed a law that expanded the statute of limitations for bringing a civil lawsuit for damages against perpetrators of sexual abuse, including members of the clergy and those who facilitated their actions. A bill currently pending in the Minnesota House would entirely eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal sexual offenses in the state. These measures have given survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Minnesota renewed hope that they may yet see justice done for the abuse they suffered.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA are affiliated law firms that represent brave survivors of clergy sexual abuse throughout the United States. Our mission is to help anyone who suffered the trauma of clergy sexual abuse to obtain justice and compensation for the harm done to them. We invite anyone in Minnesota with an interest in learning more about legal options for holding clergy sexual abusers and those who enabled them accountable to contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
About Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
Representing clients across the country, Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA attorneys spend every day fighting to achieve justice and compensation for anyone who has suffered injuries and losses through no fault of their own. Over our years of practice, we have built a national reputation as a group of seasoned trial lawyers who are prepared to tackle the most complicated and difficult cases on behalf of those who need our services most.
At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we put every last ounce of energy and commitment into representing courageous survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It is the least we can do to honor the incredibly brave step our clients take when they decide to come forward to tell their stories and to confront their abusers and/or the institutions that facilitated abuse. No two allegations of clergy sexual abuse are the same. That is why our attorneys put the highest priority on listening to our clients’ stories, hearing what they hope to achieve as a form of justice and accountability, and putting the full measure of our effort into achieving the legal and practical outcome that best suits their needs.
Over our years of practice, we have recovered millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts for our clients. We cannot guarantee the outcome of any particular case, of course. And we are sensitive to the fact that our clients who confront their clerical abusers may feel hesitant about coming forward with their stories when there is no way to promise how the legal process will end. For that reason, the lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA never pressure our clients to take any particular steps. It is always our clients’ decision when it comes to how to proceed.
About the Minnesota Child Victims Act
Clergy sexual abuse is a tragically persistent problem in faith communities around the world. According to advocates for sexual abuse survivors, even as the devastation of clergy sexual abuse has finally begun to come to light, many survivors remain hesitant to come forward, fearing they cannot achieve meaningful justice through a legal process because so much time has passed since the abusive events. Sadly, they have often been right to think this. In many American jurisdictions, criminal and civil laws fail to account for how difficult is for survivors to step forward. As a result, survivors in those places have found their claims expired long before they were ready to come forward.
Recognizing this sad reality, in 2013 Minnesota legislators passed and Governor Dayton signed the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers and others who enabled the abuse. Today, there is no statute of limitations on civil claims against a perpetrator of sexual abuse that happened before the victim turned 18, and a six year statute of limitation for abuse that happened when the victim was 18 or older. Survivors of sexual abuse that occurred before their 18th birthday also have until they turn 24 to take legal action against their abuser’s employer (such as, in the case of clergy abuse, a church institution). The statute of limitations period is six years for claims against employers in cases of abuse where the victim was 18 or older.
The Child Victim’s Act also allowed for a three-year “lookback window” that allowed survivors of sexual abuse to bring civil claims for damages arising from past sexual abuse, even if those claims had otherwise expired under existing law. That “window” closed in 2016.
As of now, the statute of limitations for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against perpetrators of sexual abuse is the later of 9 years from the date of the abuse or 3 years from when the event was first reported to law enforcement. A bill pending in the legislature would eliminate those time limits entirely.
Options for Seeking Accountability for Clergy Sexual Abuse in Minnesota
At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we know survivors of clergy sexual abuse choose to come forward with their stories for a wide variety of reasons. Some want to see criminal charges brought against their abusers. Others want church institutions to face up to their complicity in covering up abuse. All usually want to play some part in protecting other innocent victims from sexual predators within the clergy.
We do not take a position on the “right” way to hold perpetrators and church institutions accountable for clergy sexual abuse. Instead, we focus on giving compassionate, accurate legal advice to our clients so that they may achieve their goals in coming forward to share their painful stories. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we frequently discuss with our clients:
Lawsuits for Monetary Damages
Thanks to the Child Victims Act, survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Minnesota have the opportunity to take legal action to seek money damages against their abusers and the church institutions that may have facilitated the abuse. Money cannot heal old wounds, of course. But it can provide our clients with much-needed support, such as paying for:
- Costs of mental health and emotional support services;
- Pain and suffering inflicted by clergy sexual abuse;
- Harm done to personal relationships by abuse; and
- If available, statutory and/or punitive damages.
The sources and amounts of money damages that a survivor of clergy sexual abuse may seek vary from case to case. Our lawyers work closely with clients to determine the most accurate calculation of damages possible, so that they have the chance to recover the maximum amount of money they deserve.
Asking a Court to Order Injunctive Relief
In addition to awarding money damages, courts in Minnesota and throughout the nation have the power in some cases to order “injunctive relief,” which means directing someone to do something. In clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, we may advise our clients that they have the right to seek this kind of “relief,” such as by asking the court to order a church institution to take proactive measures to prevent and deter clergy sexual abuse in the future.
For now, Minnesota prosecutors still must contend with the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges against sexual abusers. When prosecution is possible, however, survivors of that abuse usually have the opportunity to participate as witnesses for the prosecution.
The team at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA understands that not every survivor of clergy sexual abuse wants to testify in the prosecution of their abuser. For some, this is a goal. For others, it’s something they want to avoid at all costs. We aim to counsel our clients through that decision and, once they have made it, to protect their interests in both the criminal proceeding and any civil lawsuit they may also bring. We have years of experience helping our clients steer their way through these parallel legal processes.
Coming Forward With an Allegation of Clergy Sexual Abuse in Minnesota
Revealing a history of clergy sexual abuse takes immense courage, and even then telling one’s story takes a heavy emotional toll. That is why, at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we counsel our clients to construct a strong support system around them, which often includes the services of a professional mental health counselor.
When we meet with a client for the first time in a clergy sexual abuse matter, we listen to our client’s story and learn their reasons and hopes for coming forward. We may, at that meeting or later, ask our client some difficult questions or ask them to relive painful memories, so that we have the clearest picture possible of the events of abuse. Anyone who schedules a meeting with our team at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can rest assured that anything they tell us is strictly confidential. A first meeting with us is always free of charge, and comes with no obligation attached.
In any representation that proceeds past an initial meeting, we also frequently work with our client to gather evidence to support a claim. This is not an easy process, which is one of the reasons why we advise our clients to have a strong support system in place. Once we have obtained evidence and have a clear understanding of our client’s story, we typically come up with a range of options and work with our client to explain the pros and cons of each, so that we and our client can settle upon a course of action that best suits their needs.
Whatever path our client chooses in seeking accountability for clergy sexual abuse, it is our job to execute the strategy faithfully and with determination, and that is exactly what we do. Ultimately, we may enter into negotiations with church representatives, or we may advise our client to take legal action in Minnesota courts. Whatever the path forward, our team works with diligence and compassion to give our client the best chance possible of achieving a successful outcome.
Attorneys for Minnesota Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse
Minnesota survivors of clergy sexual abuse often have a lot of question about how the legal system can help them hold their clergy abusers and church institutions accountable. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we commit our careers to helping people who have suffered trauma achieve justice and recover compensation from those who did them wrong. If you call us with your questions about coming forward with a claim of clergy sexual abuse in Minnesota, we stand ready to give you compassionate, legally-sound answers.
If you have questions about taking legal action against clergy sexual abuse, then the attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA want to hear from you today. You can reach us online or by phone at 833-552-7274. Contact us today to schedule your confidential, free, no-obligation consultation.
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