Bradenton Clergy Sex Abuse Lawyer

March 14, 2024 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

Reports of sex crimes committed by clergy members continue to roll through the newsfeeds, and childhood victims of sexual exploitation are realizing that they're not alone. Thousands of abuse survivors have come forward with stories of horrific sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and many states have changed their laws in response to these claims. Survivors of Catholic Church sexual abuse in Bradenton may recover damages for the emotional, mental, and physical impact of these crimes by partnering with a knowledgeable Bradenton clergy sex abuse lawyer at Dolman Law Group.

Whether you have questions about a local diocese's sexual abuse settlement fund or are considering filing a claim against the Church itself, the Bradenton clergy abuse attorneys at Dolman Law Group want to help. Our compassionate Catholic Church abuse lawyers provide free and confidential case evaluations for survivors in Bradenton, FL. Contact our sexual abuse legal team today by calling or reaching out privately online.

What Types of Unlawful Sexual Conduct are Involved in Catholic Church Abuse Claims?

Sexual abuse is generally defined as any sexual behavior that occurs without the victim's consent or when the victim is coerced.

In Florida, child sexual abuse is one of the primary claims made against priests. Some of the most common crimes reported by children against clergy members include:

  • Violent rape (sexual battery)
  • Any sexual penetration of the child's vaginal, anal, or oral openings with another person's sexual organs, other body part, or object
  • Any sexual contact between one person's mouth and another person's sexual organs
  • Intentional touching of the child's genitals, breasts, groin area, inner thighs, buttocks, or another intimate area above or below the clothing (molestation)
  • Masturbation or intentional exposure of a clergy member's genitals in the presence of the child for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal
  • Soliciting a child for sexual activity or pornography

Forcing a child to do one or more of these acts is also considered sexual abuse. Unlike sexual behavior between consenting adults, if the victim is under the age of 16, they cannot legally consent to the conduct.

When You Need a Clergy Sex Abuse Lawyer to Help Bring a Claim

Florida criminalizes sexual abuse based on the specific act committed. Both adults and children may bring a civil claim for sexual battery or abuse against a priest in Bradenton if he committed a sex crime, including:

  • Sexual battery (rape)
  • Exposure of sexual organs (indecent exposure)
  • Any sexual act committed by an authority figure in a Catholic school against a student
  • Lewd or lascivious battery (statutory rape)
  • Molestation
  • Sexual exhibition (masturbation)

Financial restitution, which is often paid to victims after criminal proceedings, may be awarded to cover certain direct medical expenses resulting from the abuse. However, sexual abuse often causes significant emotional injuries, such as depression. Most Catholic priests do not have the direct resources to compensate their victims. In that case, a larger institution, such as the diocese or another entity within the Church, may be held liable for your damages.

Failing to Resist or Object is Not a Defense to Bradenton Sex Crimes

Many survivors of childhood clergy sex abuse hesitate to discuss their claims because they didn't object or physically resist the clergy member. Since children cannot consent to the act, it is still considered a sex crime if you were under the age of 16 at the time. Survivors over the age of 16 may also have a claim against the Catholic Church if:

  • The abuser held any authority over the victim
  • The victim physically could not resist the sexual conduct
  • The victim was elderly or
  • The victim had a qualifying mental disability

Most victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were stunned by the conduct or did not resist out of fear and religious confusion. If the sexual contact was unwanted or you were a child at the time, speak to a clergy sex abuse lawyer in Bradenton to fully understand your legal rights.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Filing Bradenton Sexual Battery & Abuse Cases Against Local Dioceses?

Sexual Abuse

Florida legislators made a major change in response to clergy member sexual abuse when it eliminated the statute of limitations for childhood sexual battery claims. Anyone who was sexually abused in the Catholic Church when they were under the age of 16 can bring a civil claim for damages at any time. There is no deadline.

The only exception is if the statute of limitations already expired when the legislation passed in 2010. However, many of the Catholic Church's compensation funds allow survivors whose claims would otherwise be time-barred to submit a settlement request. Don't assume your statute of limitations has expired. Talk to one of our Bradenton Catholic Church clergy abuse attorneys. You may still have options to recover damages and hold the Church liable regardless of how much time has passed.

Florida Sexual Crimes May Involve Certain Deadlines

Sexual battery is the most serious sex crime in Florida. It criminalizes rape, as well as any type of sexual penetration, however slight, of a woman's genital area. Because not every case of sexual abuse qualifies as sexual battery in Bradenton, claimants might also bring a separate claim for sexual abuse within the following statute of limitations:

  • Within seven years of turning the age of 18, if the abuse occurred when you were a minor
  • Within four years of escaping the authority of the abuser
  • Within four years of discovering that an injury you're suffering from is linked to the sexual abuse claim

The time frame which gives you the longest period to file a claim applies to your case.

Furthermore, if the Catholic Church led you to believe they were investigating your claim or otherwise covered up evidence of wrongdoing, you may have additional time to file a case. We have commonly seen this scenario in these cases. The Church stalled a claim by making extraordinary efforts to relocate clergy, bury reports, and avoid taking responsibility for the acts of their priests and others who committed unspeakable acts.

Even if the abuse occurred decades ago, consider contacting Bradenton police officers or a skilled Catholic clergy abuse attorney at Dolman Law Group. You may still be permitted to file a claim to seek the compensation you deserve. 

It's also likely that you're not alone in your sexual abuse allegations against a particular parish or clergy member. Many survivors find it comforting to learn of others who endured similar abuse and work together to overcome the trauma they experienced. You may also inspire others to speak out against the same priest or another abuser.

Who May Be Held Responsible for Sexual Abuse by a Bradenton Priest?

The revelation that sexual abuse occurred in the Catholic Church for decades was shocking. Just as shocking was the Church's alleged systematic cover-up of many sexual assault cases. The Catholic Church took extreme actions in some cases to keep the general public, their parishioners, and the news media from learning about allegations against clergy members.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse by priests and other clergy members may be permitted to claim compensation from:

  • The abuser (local parish priest, clergy member, or Church volunteer)
  • An individual Church member who directly aided in the direct cover-up of sexual abuse claims
  • The owner of the local Catholic Church building where the abuse occurred
  • The abuser's direct employer, typically the local diocese or archdiocese
  • The governing body of the Church itself

The Catholic Church Should Take Financial Responsibility for Clergy Sex Abuse

Because priests are supported directly by the Church and have limited personal assets, most claims for sexual abuse are brought against a clergyman's direct employer (the local arm of the Catholic Church). This theory of liability, called respondeat superior, holds employers liable for the negligent and illegal actions of their employees that are committed within the scope of their duties. Victims might also have claims against the owner of the church building for failing to protect them and against anyone who helped cover up the abuse.

Until early 2020, the Catholic Church had a rule permitting clergy members to refuse to provide authorities with information about sexual abuse claims. Not only is this illegal if a mandatory reporter had evidence of child sexual abuse, but it likely aided offenders in escaping justice. This rule further supported the allegations that the Church helped cover up an ongoing epidemic of abuse against children and other parishioners.

Eventually, the Vatican declared this rule inapplicable to civil and criminal proceedings involving sexual abuse by priests. This may open the door for additional testimony about systematic sexual abuse cover-ups by the Catholic Church and permit victims of sex crimes to hold the Church accountable for additional unlawful acts.

Emotional and Psychological Conditions are Common in Victims of Sex Crimes in Bradenton

The most common injury suffered by victims of illegal sexual behavior is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and many underlying conditions are signs of PTSD. Most survivors base their claims against the Catholic Church on the mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma that resulted from a sexual assault by a clergy member. While physical injuries are possible, they may be relatively minor when compared to the lasting psychological damage suffered by victims.

In addition to PTSD, victims of sexual abuse have reported suffering from the following conditions:

  • Depression/anxiety – This is a separate disorder often caused by the low self-esteem and shame associated with sexual abuse and can also be a symptom of PTSD.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – This disorder often develops after sexual abuse as the victim attempts to regain control of his or her environment.
  • Substance abuse/drug dependency/alcoholism – As a means of coping with the psychological trauma and confusion caused by sexual abuse, many victims report struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.
  • Sleep disturbances & chronic fatigue – Nightmares, inability to fall asleep, and bedwetting may all be caused by sexual trauma and result in extreme fatigue.
  • Social disorders – Many social disorders, such as fear of being touched, going to the doctor, attending church, leaving the house, or otherwise socializing, can develop as the result of sexual abuse.
  • Pregnancy and STDs – You may recover damages for any STDs and unwanted pregnancies resulting from a sexual assault.
  • Fertility difficulties – For women, sexual battery may cause difficulties in becoming pregnant. You may bring a claim against the Catholic Church if you only discovered this injury years after the abuse.

Many of these disorders manifest in unique ways, such that survivors might fail to link their conditions to childhood sexual abuse. Florida's statute of limitations permits claimants to bring tort claims for abuse within four years of first discovering the link between the injury and the unlawful sexual act. For example, a woman suffering from fertility issues 30 years after she was abused may learn for the first time her condition is linked to her sexual trauma. She may still be permitted to bring a claim for damages against the local diocese that employed the parish priest.

What Financial Compensation is Available to Victims of Priest Abuse in Bradenton?

Damages for sexual abuse are traditionally available for past losses and future needs. Compensation from the Catholic Church often includes reimbursement for direct economic losses, direct non-economic losses, and punitive damages.

Direct economic losses are out-of-pocket expenses linked to the abuse. These typically include medical bills, medications, lost wages, and counseling expenses. Non-economic damages are more common in sexual abuse cases because they cover claims for emotional trauma, mental anguish, and suffering. These are some of the most prevalent injuries in sexual abuse cases. Psychological experts, friends, and family members may all testify about the impact of these life-changing disorders.

Lastly, sex crimes committed by priests and covered up by Church members or local dioceses may result in an award of punitive damages. These damages are meant to punish the offender for particularly willful and criminal conduct, such as childhood sexual abuse.

How a Clergy Sex Abuse Lawyer Can Help Recover Damages for Victims of Catholic Priest Abuse

Survivors of sexual abuse may be permitted to claim compensation for emotional injuries, mental anguish, and psychological trauma, in addition to any other direct losses and punitive damages. Working with an understanding attorney from Dolman Law Group can help you understand your options for justice and compensation. Your legal options will vary depending on the circumstances of your claim and the facts of your case.

Multiple recovery options may apply to cases of Church sexual abuse, including:

  • Filing a claim with your local dioceses' victim compensation fund, if one is established
  • Suing the priest, local diocese, and Church owner for damages in Bradenton civil courts
  • Requesting restitution as part of a criminal proceeding against a priest
  • Submitting a claim to any applicable property or liability insurers
  • Engaging in private mediation or arbitration with the local diocese

How Much Compensation Can You Recover in a Clergy Sex Abuse Claim?

Victims have recovered millions of dollars in damages as a result of these crimes, and various dioceses have established substantial compensation funds for the abused. Litigation may result in a higher verdict or settlement, but it is also a time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining process in sexual battery and abuse cases.

Many victims simply do not want to relive the trauma again, especially in court. Others, however, want to be able to tell their story in person and testify against their abuser and those who allowed the abuse to occur.

Every case to recover compensation against the Catholic Church for sexual battery is unique. The statute of limitations, the nature of the abuse, and the availability of out-of-court compensation may dictate the remedies available to you.

If you survived clergy abuse, we would consider the extent of your damages and your desired outcomes. Some survivors may wish to bring a public claim against a local parish and seek punitive damages, while others may prefer private mediation with the archdiocese. A compassionate Dolman Law Group Bradenton legal professional with experience handling sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Church may help you select the option that works best for your situation.

Bradenton Catholic Church Sexual Abuse FAQ

Below, you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get from clients and potential clients in a clergy abuse case. If you cannot find the answer you are looking for here, our initial consultations are always free, and one of our lawyers will be happy to discuss your concerns with you.

How Is Sexual Abuse Defined in Florida?

Florida law does not define sexual abuse directly. Instead, sexual abuse is the term used to describe when a person becomes the victim of a sexual offense or sex crime. Sexual abuse may also be referred to as unlawful sexual activity, unlawful sexual contact, or unwanted sexual conduct. The state defines abuse against children as any intentional act or threat committed against a child, including sexual abuse, that causes the child mental, physical, or emotional harm.

Florida criminalizes a variety of sexual offenses contained in different parts of the state criminal code. If you were subject to unwanted contact of a lewd or sexual nature, which can include molestation, groping, rape, or being forced to touch someone else sexually, you likely have a claim for sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse may also include sex crimes that don't involve touching, such as being forced to watch someone masturbate, being subject to unwanted viewing of sexual organs, or being forced to watch or create pornographic videos or images. If this occurred in the Catholic Church, especially when you were a child or underage, you're not alone.

What Are The Different Sex Crimes Claimed in Bradenton Clergy Sexual Abuse Claims?

Understanding the most common sex crimes reported by victims of Catholic Church sexual abuse might be helpful for Bradenton victims considering filing a claim. The following is a non-exhaustive list of sex crimes that form the basis of sexual abuse claims in Florida:

  • Sexual battery – The act is defined as vaginal, anal, or oral penetration with a sexual organ, body part, or object. This applies to adult victims as well as child victims.
  • Unnatural and lascivious act (Fla. Stat. § 800.02) – A catchall statute that criminalizes any unwanted, unnatural, and lascivious act that may be used to support a sexual abuse claim against the Catholic Church.
  • Exposure of sexual organs (Fla. Stat. § 800.03) – This criminalizes indecent exposure, which includes exposing sexual organs to the victim in public or on someone else's property, which includes church buildings and schools.
  • Lewd or lascivious battery (Fla. Stat. § 800.04) – This covers the act of sexual intercourse with someone over the age of 12 but under the age of 16, regardless of consent or the offender's lack of knowledge of the victim's age. It also includes encouraging, enticing, or forcing someone under 16 to engage in any type of prostitution or sexual activity
  • Lewd or lascivious molestation (Fla. Stat. § 800.04) – Molestation is defined as the intentional sexual touching of a person under the age of 16, which includes touching breasts, genitals, inner thighs, or buttocks directly or above the clothing. This also includes forcing a person under the age of 16 to touch someone else sexually or commit one of the above acts.
  • Lewd or lascivious sexual exhibition (Fla. Stat. § 800.04) – This is the act of intentionally masturbating or exposing one's genitals in a victim's presence, forcing another to do so, or committing any unwanted sexual act in the victim's presence, even if it doesn't involve physical or sexual contact.
  • Sexual offenses against students by authority figures (Fla. Stat. § 800.101) – This criminalizes anyone in authority at a school, including an employee, volunteer, or someone under contract, who engaged in sexual or lewd conduct with a student. Private Catholic schools qualify as schools under this statute

These sexual acts are crimes in most states, although the names may differ. You may still bring an insurance claim or litigation against the Catholic Church in Florida courts if the abuse occurred in another state. Our attorneys can discuss this possibility with you during your free, confidential consultation with our team.

What if I Didn't Resist Or Say No to the Priest Or Other Clergy Member When I Was Sexually Abused?

If you were under the age of 16, lack of physical resistance is not a defense to sexual abuse claims in Bradenton. Even if you were over the age of 16, if the contact was unwanted and you felt pressured, coerced, or manipulated into agreeing, it typically doesn't matter that you didn't object to the sexual abuse at the time.

Actual consent, in other words, the contact was truly wanted and not the product of manipulation or coercion, is a defense to certain types of sexual conduct between adults. However, consent is not a defense to sex crimes committed against victims under the age of 16, those who could not physically resist the conduct, or people with a mental disability.

Many victims of Catholic Church abuse report feeling manipulated or too afraid to object to the unwanted sexual act when it occurred. This is common in sexual abuse cases, and the law does not require physical resistance or a verbal “no” if the contact was unwanted. The burden is on the abuser, not the victim, to refrain from sexual conduct without clear consent.

Does Florida Have a Rape Statute?

Yes, but Florida uses the term sexual battery instead of rape. The laws defining and prohibiting sexual battery are contained in Chapter 794 of the Florida Criminal Code. This includes Bradenton, where sexual battery is defined as the penetration of a victim's vaginal, anal, or oral cavity with a sexual organ or object without the victim's legal and un-coerced consent. It is the most serious sex crime in the state and may form the basis of both rape and sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Church.

A civil case against the clergy member, Catholic Church, or another entity may be successful regardless of the outcome of the criminal case against the offender. The burden of proof is lower in civil cases, and they are often much easier to win when a significant number of years have passed.

Can I Bring a Claim If a Bradenton Catholic Priest Abused Me When I Was a Child?

Yes. With only a few exceptions, you can bring a claim at any time if a member of the Catholic Church sexually battered you when you were under the age of 16. If you were the victim of another type of sexual abuse, you can bring a claim until you reach the age of 25. There may be some other exceptions to these limitations if you were sexually abused in church, and it's recommended you speak with a qualified Florida clergy sex abuse lawyer for more information. Some branches of the Catholic Church permit victims to obtain compensation from a recovery fund even if the statute of limitations has expired.

Can I Bring a Claim Against the Church If a Parishioner Or Catholic Church Employee Sexually Abused Me, Rather Than a Priest?

Yes. If you were sexually abused in church by anyone granted authority by the Church, including a Church volunteer, you may be permitted to bring a claim for damages against the Catholic Church. Those abused on Church property, including in a school, may also bring a claim against the Church for breaching its duty to protect guests. Claims are also cognizable if the Church did not report suspected abuse to the police, permitted employees to work for the Church who had a history of sexual misconduct, or otherwise tried to cover up the abuse.

Priests have little to no liquid assets. As such, most claims for sexual abuse are brought directly against the Catholic Church, often the parish or diocese itself.

What Should I Do If I Believe My Child Was Sexually Abused in a Catholic Church In Bradenton?

Calling the police and filing a police report is the first step in protecting your child. It may be your legal duty as a parent to report these suspicions. Bradenton police officers may connect you with medical and psychological resources designed to aid your family, and they can often work with the Church to identify and suspend the alleged sexual offender during an investigation.

Special investigators are trained to handle child sexual abuse claims with care. We do not recommend reporting these claims to the Church without the assistance of law enforcement officials and experienced clergy abuse attorneys. Unfortunately, certain members of the Catholic Church covered up sexual abuse claims for years, so we need to avoid the destruction of potential evidence.

If you believe your child was subject to sexual abuse in the past, you should still file a police report and contact a Catholic Church clergy abuse attorney to discuss potential claims against the Church. Dolman Law Group is here for you and your family during this extremely difficult time.

Is There a Fund for Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church?

Yes. The Catholic Church created numerous funds to compensate victims of child sexual abuse. Survivors must agree not to file a lawsuit and instead go through mediation to discuss and present their claims. Mediation may be a good choice for many victims of child sexual abuse, as it is often a more private and quicker means of recovering compensation.

However, some survivors of Catholic Church abuse may not qualify to recover from the fund or would otherwise benefit from making a stronger claim for compensatory and punitive damages in Bradenton courts. Local sexual abuse litigation and mediation attorneys from Dolman Law Group can confidentially discuss the pros and cons of each avenue of recovery with survivors.

What Free Resources Are Available to Discuss Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Claims In Bradenton?

In addition to our lawyers, the following free and often confidential resources are available for Bradenton victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church:

  • RAINN – A comprehensive non-profit for sexual abuse claims that runs the national sexual abuse hotline, (800) 656-4673
  • SNAP – Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests
  • Florida Council Against Sexual Violence – Statewide hotline and resources serving victims of sexual abuse in Bradenton

You're not alone. Don't be afraid to get help and explore your options if a Bradenton Church employee sexually abused you.

How Can I Protect My Privacy Or My Child's Privacy If I Want to File a Sexual Abuse Claim Against The Catholic Church In Bradenton?

Numerous laws, including the way claims are filed and attorney-client privilege, protect a child's privacy during civil and criminal sexual abuse proceedings. Consider working with our attorneys or using one of the above non-profit resources to ensure your privacy and comfort while making these difficult claims.

Trust the Confidential and Empathetic Bradenton Catholic Church Clergy Abuse Lawyers at Dolman Law Group

Attorney Mathew Dolman
Matthew Dolman, Clergy Sexual Assault Attorney

We know it's difficult to contact a stranger to discuss your sexual abuse case. Abuse survivors may fear painting their religion in a negative light or struggle to discuss the details of their abuse. At Dolman Law Group, our professional and experienced clergy sexual abuse attorneys meet you wherever you are in the process. Contact us today for a free, confidential case evaluation.

With offices across both Florida coasts, including in Bradenton, you can easily visit Dolman Law Group or contact us by using our online contact page. Contact a Bradenton personal injury lawyer today. Since our firm handles these cases on a contingency fee basis, we will not ask for any fees by the hour, upfront, or from your pocket. Our payment comes from the financial recovery we secure for you at the end of your case.

Bradenton Office
6703 14th Street West Suite 207
Bradenton, FL 34207
Phone: (941) 613-5747


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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