Priest Sex Abuse Lawyer

December 20, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

Regardless of faith, religion, or creed, those who are devout regularly engage with the leaders who facilitate and mediate their relationship with a higher power. As religious followers embark on their spiritual journey, those in power sometimes use their position as an opportunity to sexually abuse those who look to them for religious guidance.

Clergy of any religion or denomination can sexually abuse girls and adults. Yet, the most recent stories and cases of clergy sexual abuse involve priests from the Roman Catholic Church, who have typically victimized teenagers and young boys.

If you are a survivor of clergy sexual abuse or are currently suffering abuse from any person who has a position of power in your church, synagogue, mosque, or faith-based organization (including pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, and deacons), the abuse is not your fault. These predators have used their position of power to abuse survivors. If a clergy member is currently abusing you, tell an adult you trust and contact the police as soon as possible to stop the abuse.

When a child suffers abuse, sexual or otherwise, they sometimes detach their thoughts from the physical occurrences associated with the abuse.

The American Psychiatric Association refers to this as a dissociative disorder:

“During a traumatic experience such as an accident, disaster, or crime victimization, dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, a person may dissociate the memory of the place, circumstances, or feelings about the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain, and horror. This may make it difficult to later remember the details of the experience, as reported by many disaster and accident survivors.”

Recently, as allegations surfaced against many Catholic priests, many states have changed their laws to account for how some adult clergy sexual abuse survivors have suffered from a dissociative disorder. Changes vary among states. However, many include changes to the statutes of limitations, as well as providing a specific window of time to take action against abusers.

Regardless of when you suffered abuse at the hands of a trusted clergy member, you might be eligible for compensation. Contact the experienced priest sex abuse lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, online or at 866-481-5347 for a free and confidential consultation to determine the best course of action for your individual circumstances. We serve clients throughout the United States who have survived sexual abuse and continue to help clients seek the justice they deserve.

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Our Dedication to Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors

Dolman Law Priest Sexual Abuse Lawyer Team standing and sitting behind large table

The sexual abuse attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, have served clients who suffered preventable injuries caused by another's reckless behavior or intentional harm. The firm's continued dedication to client advocacy and professionalism has contributed to the recovery of millions of dollars of damages in settlements and jury awards for clients over the years.

We seek justice for survivors of clergy sexual abuse with the understanding that sexual abuse cases do not fall under the umbrella of “typical personal injury claims.” The privacy of our clients is a priority. Our lawyers also understand that seeking economic damages from your current or former religious community can feel awkward or maybe even wrong. We want to seek justice in the way that best suits your individual goals for healing.

Additionally, we understand the courage a sexual abuse survivor must have to come forward. We will continue to help survivors hold their abusers and those who enabled the abuse accountable for their actions. While your steps to hold your abuser accountable contribute to your emotional health, they can also help protect others from future abuse when you speak out.

The clergy sexual abuse attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, understand that each sexual abuse survivor's path toward justice varies based on their experience. We are here to present you with legal options and advice so you can make an informed decision about the best way to proceed, considering your individual circumstances.

Dynamics of Clergy Sexual Abuse in Children

In recent allegations against priests affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the vast majority of those sexual abuse survivors were children and teens. The dynamics of sexually abusing children can differ from adult sexual abuse.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the following as common dynamics of child sexual abuse:

  • Abusers typically do not resort to physical force but instead manipulate and coerce children into hiding sexual abuse and keeping the secret.
  • Child sexual abuse often occurs continuously over weeks, months, or years.
  • Abusers commonly groom their child victims and gradually introduce sexual activity into the relationship.
  • Pedophiles hone their skills so they can inject themselves into the lives of children they want to target.

Florida Priest Sex Abuse Cases We Handle

Over two million Catholics are in the state, with over 450 parishes to attend and seven Catholic dioceses. The following fact may come as a shock, but Florida has become a dumping ground for problem priests. Many priests from northern dioceses come to Florida when they are out of options and have garnered repeated accusations of sexual abuse. The church's actions have put millions in danger.

Unfortunately, nearly every Catholic Diocese houses priests who have admitted to or faced allegations of sexually abusing children and others.

Notable cases include:

When a member of the church commits sexual assault, it is a breach of trust in the highest form. These parties should be held accountable for their actions. The church and priests have covered up these situations for far too long. It's time they answer for their crimes. Let our priest sex abuse lawyer in Florida assist in obtaining the justice you deserve.

Aside from these institutions, priest sexual abuse also occurs in:

Often, priest sexual abuse happens at church events and in other settings such as:

  • Seminaries
  • Religious counseling
  • Religious school
  • Retreats

Many times, the abuse happens to members of the church, like congregants, students, altar boys, and parishioners. Dolman Law Group can help members of the church and others whom priests sexually abuse.

What is Priest Sex Abuse?

Generally speaking, sex abuse involves actions that coerce or pressure someone into doing something sexual.

Examples of sex abuse by priests include:

  • Unwanted touching or kissing
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Threats to get someone into an unwanted sexual position
  • Sexual contact with someone under the influence

If someone cannot give consent, that can be another form of abuse.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) breaks it down further by providing statistics about the most common sex abuse:

  • Asking the victim to undress (9.2 percent)
  • Touching the genital area of an undressed person (11.3 percent)
  • Kisses on the mouth (11.4 percent)
  • Touching the genital area underneath clothing (22.5 percent)
  • Inappropriate touching (29.5 percent)

Looking for Signs of Sexual Abuse

Mattew Dolman, Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer

While adults might be aware of what constitutes sexual abuse, children are not. Additionally, when they have been taught to trust priests, they might think what happens is their fault or that they will get in trouble. All of these reasons mean that child sex abuse often goes unreported.

Parents and loved ones can look for signs that can signify sexual abuse. The first thing you may notice is the child distancing themselves from you. They can begin to avoid social interactions, keep secrets, and seem distant. Emotional withdrawal can be a coping mechanism.

Another reason children may withdraw is because the priest is telling them they cannot trust their families or they should keep their interactions a secret. This can be confusing, and the child might not say anything to anyone.

Emotional withdrawal goes hand in hand with personality changes that can also manifest. Your child may experience mood swings and angry outbursts without explanation.

Sleep disturbances are the most significant indicator that something is happening. The child may have insomnia and disruptions in their sleep patterns. They may have an increase in nightmares as they recall the traumatic experience. These disturbances can last well after you get them treatment and begin a legal claim.

Changes in personal appearance can be indicators of trauma, such as if the child is wearing baggier clothing or clothes they usually might avoid. Some children might want to dye their hair, get piercings, or other things that might seem like rebellious behavior.

Parents should create a safe space to discuss any suspicious signs with their children. Speaking to mental health professionals and working with a medical team can help determine other coping mechanisms and ways to support victims.

Priests Who Are Prosecuted for Child Sex Abuse

The allegations and accusations against priests are rampant. While the number of accusations is high, this doesn't indicate the successful prosecution rate for many cases. It takes a lot to prosecute a priest since the victim must cooperate in the criminal case. If victims do not come forward or there is a successful cover-up, then it is challenging to hold the abuser accountable.

However, despite all of the hardships and hurdles over the past three decades, more and more priests are being adequately prosecuted for their crimes. The church is implementing mandatory reporting policies as well. Law enforcement agencies are also taking a stand by implementing a zero-tolerance policy.

Successful criminal cases often lead to more victims pursuing civil actions. Discuss your options for a civil injury case with our legal team.

Who is Most at Risk of Priest Sex Abuse?

The NCBI, sadly, reports that the people most at risk of sexual abuse are children, including abuse by priests. The average age for these victims is 12, and only 25 percent of victims are 14 and older. When it comes to clergy sex abuse, males made up 62.8 percent and women 34.8 percent. This applies to both children and adults.

Why is Child Sex Abuse Prevalent in the Church

Catholic churches previously had near complete control of any crimes or abuse allegations within the institution. This means for many years, they were left unchecked. The church was made aware of pedophile priests, and often nothing happened. This led to these perpetrators continuing to be active in parishes and around children.

Sometimes, the church relocates the priest if the allegations are severe. However, the behavior often persists regardless of the priest's reassignment. Children, the most vulnerable victims, place trust in authority figures, no matter what church the priest oversees.

You must speak to a priest sex abuse attorney in Florida for more information on your legal options. The Catholic Church has taken steps to encourage people to come forward. Even so, it doesn't mean anyone will take steps to rectify the situation. Your best bet is to take legal action with the help of Dolman Law Group.

Using an Online Hotline for Help

Survivors of sexual abuse have some resources to help during this process. The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline provides live chat by using, which is available 24/7.

Some benefits of these free services include:

  • Trained support professionals
  • Confidential support
  • Referrals for long-term support
  • Someone to talk to about what happened
  • Information about laws and community resources
  • Additional resources to help with healing

If you use the online one-on-one chat, it works like other online chat systems. The one difference is there are added privacy protections. You will enter a private chat room with a support professional and type each other back and forth. You do not provide personal identifying information; you can share as much or as little as you want.

RAINN support specialists are trained in helping survivors and come from different backgrounds and experiences. All support staff are carefully vetted, trained, and supervised. You can leave feedback about the support person and your experience. This helps the organization adjust as it needs to.

The hotline is an extension of the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It gives survivors another option to get the support they need. They understand that it can be challenging to talk about these issues, and online chatting might work better. Over 300,000 users have received assistance since its inception.

Long-Term Impact of Sexual Abuse

Attorney Rebecca Dolman

If you have experienced clergy sexual abuse, you have likely wrestled with the idea of coming forward with your story. If you have not yet reported your abuse, you might still be wondering if coming forward is the right choice for you.

Choosing to come forward can require a strong support system that can include close friends, family, and support groups. Many sexual abuse survivors who have come forward have found that having a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, has helped them navigate the difficult steps of telling their story. Coming forward can be an important part of the healing process.

Behavioral therapy to cope with the trauma of clergy sexual abuse can be extremely important for minor children who come forward with an allegation against a clergy member. Therapists can help reduce the long-term effects of sexual abuse that children experience in the wake of their trauma.

If you suspect your child is being abused or has been abused by a clergy member, watch for these common symptoms:

  • Fear, shame, guilt, humiliation, and other emotional reactions to the abuse. This can display itself as symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Nightmares, flashbacks, and distracting thoughts that suggest post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Self-harm, talking about suicide, and other self-defeating behaviors driven by self-blame for the abuse.

If you are an adult survivor of clergy sexual abuse during your childhood, you can experience physical, sexual, and interpersonal consequences of the trauma from the abuse. Sexual abuse is not typically a one-time event; it often occurs continuously for weeks, months, or years. The longer someone suffers abuse, the higher the likelihood that he or she will face severe impact.

Long-Term Physical Impact of Sexual Abuse

Adults who suffer sexual abuse as children are twice as likely to smoke, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and suffer from severe obesity. They are also five times more likely to abuse controlled substances. Other physical consequences of sexual abuse include self-neglect, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Long-Term Sexual Impact of Sexual Abuse

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse by a clergy member can have sexual difficulties. A low sex drive, the inability to get aroused, and the inability to reach climax sometimes occur because of the association between sexual activity and the violation and pain derived from the abuse.

Additionally, sexual abuse survivors are more likely to have over 50 sex partners, contract an STI, and make risky decisions that can lead to HIV.

Long-Term Interpersonal Impact of Sexual Abuse

Children and teens who attend religious services are typically taught to trust clergy. When clergy sexual abuse occurs, the violation of the trust can be as traumatic as the abuse itself.

Adult survivors sometimes struggle with boundaries as a result. They either have difficulty trusting others or have difficulty setting boundaries for others to protect themselves. This can leave adult survivors vulnerable to further victimization and exploitation.

Clergy sexual abuse survivors may choose to come forward for many reasons. Some have undergone therapy and feel the need to confront their abuser and hold him or her accountable as part of their recovery.

Some have worked through the trauma of sexual abuse and no longer feel guilty, shameful, or embarrassed. As a result, they feel safe to tell their story and seek justice. Many clergy sexual abuse survivors want to stop future abuse by clergy, so they come forward to protect others.

If you choose to make an allegation against a clergy member who sexually abused you, contacting an attorney can be a step in the right direction. The clergy sexual abuse lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, can evaluate your story, uncover necessary facts, and provide you with options after considering your individual situation.

Seeking Justice With a Lawsuit

You may bring a lawsuit against your abuser and the religious institutions that possibly enabled clergy sexual abuse. This can depend, in part, on how long ago your clergy sexual abuse occurred, your age, and the state in which the abuse took place.

If your lawyer reaches a settlement or if a court rules in your favor after going to trial, you may recover compensation for the following costs related to your clergy sexual abuse:

  • Mental health expenses, including costs to visit a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional who helps sexual abuse survivors cope with their trauma.
  • Physical pain and suffering.
  • Emotional distress caused by the trauma from the abuse.
  • Damage to interpersonal relationships as a result of the abuse, including loss of consortium with a spouse.
  • Punitive damages. This is especially common for religious institutions that enable or cover up clergy sexual abuse.

We cannot guarantee a specific financial outcome for your clergy sexual abuse case, but we have the knowledge and resources to deal with clergy sexual abuse cases.

Seeking Justice Through Criminal Charges

If the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution has not expired, you can tell your story to law enforcement and request they press criminal charges against your abuser. Only the prosecutor or state's attorney (depending on where you live) can choose to charge your abuser. But, survivors often have a choice whether to participate in criminal proceedings.

Sometimes, criminal and civil trials occur simultaneously, making it difficult to know exactly what to say during testimony.

A clergy sexual abuse lawyer at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, can advise you and protect your rights in civil and criminal court proceedings.

Options When the Church is Responsible

Lawyer Stanley Gipe

As we've mentioned, the church can sometimes cover up priest sex abuse. That means they can also be responsible if they acted neglectfully or intentionally to hide the priest's actions. The church must provide oversight to protect children and other vulnerable parishioners.

You may file a claim against the church if they were aware of the sexual misconduct and failed to investigate the incident. Another cause of action arises if the church fails to monitor priests and provide a safe environment for children and other parishioners.

You can sue the church and the priest in many cases. While you can choose to focus on the individual, the church may still intervene. They employ the priest, and therefore, the criminal actions of their employee can harm their reputation. Despite your situation, Dolman Law Group will determine the best route for your case. You should also consider what you are most comfortable with.

Aside from civil and criminal prosecution, you may have other legal options. You can pursue injunctive relief and protective orders. Injunctive relief is essential because it requests that the other party stop doing something or take action to ensure the perpetrator does not have access to you or your child. It sounds similar to a protective order with additional requirements. These injunctions can require an employer to create policies to protect children. This is vital in priest sex abuse cases.

Protective orders keep the perpetrator away from the victim. This helps protect the child in the event they ever interact with your child. Your Florida priest sex abuse lawyer can help identify all possible legal action you can take.

Statute of Limitations for Priest Sex Abuse

Civil actions can have deadlines and statutes. Once these deadlines pass, you can lose your right to recover compensation. Sexual abuse cases are sensitive, and there are still stringent deadlines. You must be aware of these statutes if you are considering legal action.

It is challenging in these cases because various factors can impact a priest sex abuse case:

  • Your age at the time of the abuse is a significant factor. If you were a minor, your deadline may start when you remember the incident or become an adult.
  • The laws in the state and how understanding and helpful they are towards victims. Periodic new legislation can impact your legal claim.
  • Delayed discovery rules can allow victims to delay the statute of limitations. This premise is that some victims repress their memories of the assault. Later in life, these memories come back. Sometimes, the law will impose a statute starting from the day you "discover" your injury.

Various factors can impact your time, and the law allows you to delay your statute in some situations. It's advisable to consult a priest sex abuse attorney in Florida to determine statutes that may apply and explore options to extend your time.

Doman Law Group, team of Priest Abuse Attorneys

Let Our Priest Abuse Attorneys Help You Seek Justice

Survivors of clergy sexual abuse potentially face a wide array of long-term consequences from their abuse. Physical and emotional trauma from sexual abuse can inject itself into every aspect of a survivor's life, sometimes creating personal and professional struggles. Additionally, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to provide spiritual guidance can create struggles with one's faith.

If a clergy member has sexually violated you or someone you love, take action. You may hold your abuser accountable and receive compensation for injuries and losses related to clergy sexual abuse.

Whether you have made the decision to come forward with a clergy sexual abuse allegation or you are still considering your options, consult with an attorney in this field. They can explain your options to seek justice and accountability for your abuser and religious organization. We understand the gravity of your situation and the internal struggles you might be experiencing, and we are here to help.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, have offices throughout Florida, and we serve clients throughout the United States who have suffered clergy sexual abuse. Contact us today online or at 833-552-7274 for a confidential and free consultation to discuss the details of your abuse, the ways it has affected your life, and where you can go from there. You are not alone.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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