Archdiocese of Chicago Priest Sex Abuse Lawyer

October 19, 2020 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

While many Archdioceses across the United States failed to address allegations of priest abuse of parishioners, particularly children, the Chicago Archdiocese released information relatively early. These allegations did not become widespread until after the Boston Globe released their bombshell investigative report in 2002. In contrast, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin released a report much earlier and The Daily Herald published an article in 2015 commending the work of the Archdiocese of Illinois.

Despite this, the Anderson Report, released in 2018, reveals that while there were only 185 publicly identified members of the Illinois clergy who previously were “credibly” accused of sexual abuse, there was plenty of reason to believe the actual number could be as many as 690. In total, the report disclosed the names of 395 priests and lay people accused of perpetrating sexual abuse within Illinois' six dioceses.

The Role of the Late Chicago Archbishop Joseph Bernardin

Joseph Bernardin became the seventh Archbishop of Chicago on July 10, 1982. When he assumed this role, he found the Archdiocese in disarray. While most of this had to do with financial problems, there were many other pressing issues he would have to handle.

In 1994, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin was accused of sexual abuse of a minor by a former seminary student along with Reverend Ellis Harsham. Reportedly, this abuse had occurred while Bernardin was archbishop in Cincinnati. The accuser later recanted his story about Bernardin but reached a settlement with the Cincinnati Archdiocese regarding the accusation against Harsham.

The process convinced Bernardin that this was a bigger issue across the Archdiocese and committed himself to protect the children across Chicago. There is reason to believe Chicago may have been the first Archdiocese to begin reporting incidents of sexual abuse in the church to civilian law enforcement, which they started doing in 2002.

In service of this commitment, as a Bishop, he chartered a Commission on Clerical Sexual Misconduct with Minors to investigate issues relating to sexual misconduct in the church and to make recommendations. In light of the findings in the report, which was released in June of 1992, the Archdiocese created the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review. This Office continues today to investigate allegations made against members of the Archdiocese.

Patterns of Abuse Over Decades in the Archdiocese of Chicago

While Archbishop Bernardin removed about 20 clergy members from active service due to accusations of abuse and molestation, this came at an extremely late date for many victims. A look at some early accusations and resignations from the Chicago Archdiocese indicate that survivors may have started reporting incidents of abuse as far back as the 1950s. However, as we have learned, many of these accusations went unaddressed and the accused were shuffled from Archdiocese to Archdiocese to prevent accusations from becoming public.

Unfortunately, in many of these cases, the accusers are now deceased, which prevents them from being held criminally liable for their actions. However, survivors can still hold the Archdiocese accountable for covering up these crimes through a priest sexual abuse lawsuit. A victim may file a lawsuit against the person who was responsible for the abuse and against the Archdiocese of Chicago for their decades of covering up these crimes.

Every Archdiocese Attempted to Duck Liability

Often it is difficult to get an Archdiocese to admit the truth of a victim's allegation. While there is a process in place to protect potential victims from abuse today, for many decades, accusations were ignored. In some instances, parents would make a complaint to the church and before anyone responded to them, the abuser was reassigned to another parish, another diocese, or relocated out of the country.

In some instances, parents were offered settlements for the abuse but were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, which prevented them from making public accusations against their child's abuser. While we currently have no specific information regarding this occurring in the Chicago Archdiocese, we do know this happened in other dioceses and there is no reason to believe it did not occur in Chicago.

The Statute of Limitations Is Extended in Illinois for Sexual Abuse Survivors

During 2013, Illinois' Governor, along with the Illinois legislature, made it easier for victims of sexual assault and abuse to recover financially. Additionally, it made it easier for victims to pursue criminal charges against their abusers. Before the new legislation, statutes of limitations often made it challenging for adult victims to hold their abusers accountable civilly or criminally. This is no longer the case in Illinois.

Because the legislature and the governor recognized victims often do not come forward for decades after their abuse, changes were made to Illinois law to eliminate statutes of limitations for sexual abuse cases. This dramatic change means survivors need never worry about running out of time to go to court.

Civil Lawsuits Are Different From Criminal Cases

A victim can file a civil lawsuit against their abuser or the church to seek compensation for their suffering. Priest sexual abuse lawsuits can hold people responsible for causing harm, either physical or emotional, accountable financially for the damage they have caused. Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of members of the Archdiocese of Chicago may be eligible to file a civil lawsuit and the attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA are here to help.

Survivors of Archdiocese of Chicago priest abuse may have a claim against the Archdiocese for the harm they have lived with for decades. Money cannot make up for broken trust, pain and suffering, or the disruption to the lives of survivors. However, what it can do is ensure survivors a means of paying for services to help them deal with the abuse they have suffered. Additionally, there may also be punitive damages awarded to victims: This is a means of holding the Archdiocese accountable for years of moving abusers around to keep the abuse quiet.

One of the challenges which we have run into is that survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest want to put the abuse behind them. We understand this, and we also understand that in most cases, survivors feel responsible for protecting future parishioners from potential abuse. We want to make sure every survivor understands that they are always in complete control over the decision to move forward with any legal action. We are here to represent survivors, and we guarantee complete confidentiality and privacy.

Survivor Questions About Criminal Cases

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA survivors often ask us what obligations they have when it comes to pursuing a criminal case against members of the clergy who abused them. The first thing survivors should know is prosecutors must bring criminal cases. A prosecutor will review the victim's accusation, investigate the accusation, then determine what, if any charges to bring against the perpetrator.

If the prosecutor files charges against the accused, a survivor can decide whether or not to testify against the perpetrator. Some survivors feel that only by telling their story in court can they hope to find closure. Others find the experience of telling their story publicly, through the court, a catharsis. For still others, the idea of testifying about their abuse in open court is unthinkable. We can help you understand your options and make sure you understand your rights.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit Against an Abuser and the Archdiocese of Chicago

For those survivors who wish to consider filing a civil lawsuit, Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA are here to help. We understand the complexities of filing a civil lawsuit against abusers and the Archdiocese. We are also aware that you may need time to decide whether filing a suit is in your best interests.

You need not be concerned—we will never move forward without your full consent. We will take the time to listen to your story, treating you every step of the way with the dignity and respect you deserve. We will tell you what options are available to you, and if you decide to move forward, we will be with you throughout the process of negotiations, settlement discussions, and, if needed, court proceedings.

We want to make sure you understand:

  • We will advise you of every legal option you have;
  • You decide which option you feel is best for your needs;
  • We will only move forward if you are ready to do so;
  • Only you have the power to decide what steps we take next;
  • At each step, you have the decision to stop the proceedings; and
  • We guarantee the confidentiality of your story and your privacy—we will never share your information with anyone until you tell us you are ready to move forward.

Damages That Might Be Available in Archdiocese of Chicago Priest Abuse Cases

Priest Sex Abuse Lawyer in Chicago

Sexual abuse law is complicated and there are laws called statutes of limitations that can make it difficult for victims to seek justice if too much time has passed.

However, depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be eligible to seek one or more of the following types of compensation:

  • Punitive damage awards - In some civil cases, particularly in cases of abuse by a priest, we seek punitive awards. These damages go beyond any direct monetary awards you may receive for out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Pain and suffering - For years, and in some cases, decades, survivors were forced to live with the pain their abuser has caused. We may help get you compensation to make up for some of this suffering.
  • Medical and mental healthcare - We understand everyone handles the pain of abuse differently. In some cases, this pain can manifest as physical disorders and in others, as emotional issues. Whether you are receiving long-term care for physical or emotional issues, or both, we can help you seek compensation for the costs associated with the abuse you suffered.

Our skilled priest sexual abuse attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA have spent their careers fighting for the rights of those who have been wronged. We have a proven track record of successfully negotiating settlements for survivors. While we cannot use our record to guarantee future results, victims can use it to see we fight hard on behalf of every client.

Call Our Chicago Archdiocese Abuse Injury Claim Attorneys

The website Bishop Accountability has a list of each of the members of the Chicago Archdiocese who have faced accusations of abuse. Many of those accused are no longer alive, and still others retired or the Archdiocese forced them out.

For survivors, this list may provide some insight into where they served, what years they served, and how many accusations were filed against them. We know there may be abusers who are not on that list, and we are aware there are often many reasons why survivors have never come forward.

Just because an abuser has died or left the Chicago Archdiocese does not extinguish your rights to seek compensation. You can still seek civil damages against the Archdiocese for the wrongs it did to you. While you cannot expect a criminal case against a deceased abuser, you still have the right to seek financial compensation from the institution that employed and protected him.

If you are a survivor of abuse by a priest in the Chicago Archdiocese and you are uncertain about your rights or you are undecided about what steps you should take, we can help answer your questions and help you understand what options are available to you.

Contact an attorney at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA or dial 833-552-7274 today to set up a free consultation. You have no obligation to do anything after you have spoken with us, it is up to you whether you take further action. Contact us today and let us explain your options and your rights. You have nothing to lose—and you may find sharing your story with someone who will listen with compassion and empathy can help you find the healing you deserve.

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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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