People have been talking for years about Catholic clergy sexual misconduct in the United States. On August 27, 2019, reports from an Associated Press investigation revealed that a Catholic religious order settled sexual abuse cases with two Mississippi men, who were paid $15,000 each and were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The $15,000 payments are far less than what other Catholic sexual abuse survivors have typically received.
An official from the Franciscan religious order that paid the settlement denied that the two men's race or poverty had anything to do with the size of the settlements offered to them. However, in 2006, the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, settled 19 cases with an average payout of more than $250,000 for each survivor. Also in 2006, a Franciscan province based in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles settled claims with an average payment of nearly 1.3 million for each survivor.
A recent settlement in the St.-Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese included an average payment of nearly $500,000 each for abuse survivors. A Pennsylvania grand jury also investigated allegations of sexual abuse by Church clergy. The report, released in August 2018, detailed shocking acts of sexual abuse and assault committed against minors, often young children, and brought a heightened awareness to the wrongdoing.
Overall, Catholic dioceses have paid more than $3.8 billion to settle the claims of more than 8,600 victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy. For some time, the Church has been making payments to alleged abuse survivors. It is difficult to know exactly how many children have been victims of sexual assault committed by clergy, but for each individual, the suffering from a sexual assault can last a lifetime.
A knowledgeable sexual abuse attorney or child sexual assault lawyer who understands the deeply personal nature of sexual abuse claims can seek justice for you with skill, commitment, and sensitivity. When you are ready to talk to a Pensacola sexual assault defense lawyer, the team at Dolman Law Group is here for you.
The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee Investigation
Catholic officials have been promising to end the cover-up of clergy abuse for nearly two decades. The Pennsylvania grand jury report identified 301 Catholic priests who allegedly sexually abused over 1,000 children. At least 14 of these priests had ties to Florida.
There are seven dioceses in Florida: Miami, St. Petersburg, Venice, St. Augustine, Orlando, Pensacola-Tallahassee, and Palm Beach. The Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese covers 18 counties in northwest Florida and serves approximately 77,900 Catholics.
In October 2018, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that all seven of Florida's Catholic dioceses were under statewide investigation for alleged clergy abuse. Also, the current attorney general of Florida, Ashley Moody, has requested the Florida dioceses to release the names of all Catholic clergy members who have been credibly accused.
Many dioceses in Florida, including the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, have chosen to wait until the conclusion of the investigation before releasing the names. However, more than half of U.S. dioceses have released the names of credibly accused clergy.
Bishop Accountability, a U.S. non-profit organization, includes links to abuse reports since the 1980s. It also contains testimonies of survivors of clerical abuse and court documents related to criminal prosecutions and lawsuits in the United States. The Bishop Accountability Database contains a list of publicly accused clergy in the United States, including those in the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. It is important to note that the information contained in the database does not necessarily mean that persons who are only facing allegations, accused, or sued are guilty of a crime or liable for civil legal actions.
Civil Lawsuits Related to Sexual Assault by Clergy Surge
Following the release of the Pennsylvania report, as well as other reports of alleged sexual abuse, hundreds of victims filed lawsuits claiming to have suffered abuse because of the Catholic Church's negligence. It is hard to grasp the full scope of this problem. Statistics about these claims, cases, and settlements are difficult to identify, so most sources rely on information provided by plaintiff attorneys who represent the abuse survivors.
According to an article in the 2004 Fordham Urban Law Journal, since 1984, there have been about 3,000 civil cases related to alleged clergy sex abuse in the U.S., most of which have ended in a settlement. Sexual abuse and assault are unquestionably crimes, but they often go unreported for many years.
There are many reasons why sexual abuse is not reported or prosecuted. Since the victims are often young children, sexual abuse is a source of intense emotional trauma, and the victim may find it hard to process or acknowledge what happened. Until recently, statutes of limitations blocked many criminal court cases against alleged abusers and restricted civil lawsuits related to abuse from decades ago
The Sexual Abuse Lawyers at Dolman Law Group are Not Afraid to Challenge the Dioceses of Pensacola-Tallahassee or other Catholic Churches
The personal injury team at Dolman Law Group has extensive experience protecting people who are injured in many different ways. We believe abuse survivors are entitled to be heard, to receive justice, and to recover monetary compensation for the harm they have suffered. We know a civil lawsuit is often the best or possibly the only course of action for abuse survivors.
If we work together to bring a civil case alleging sexual assault, we must prove the negligence of that liable party and establish that the negligent or reckless behavior caused the damages you suffered. Negligence refers to conduct that creates an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to others.
You are not limited to filing a claim against only the perpetrator. In fact, you can sue any person, institution, or organization directly or indirectly involved with the sexual abuse. For example, you may bring a claim against a Church that is aware of alleged abuse yet continues to employ credibly accused priests despite the potential danger to others. If the organization failed to protect you and did not provide adequate safeguards against the risk of sexual abuse, it might be held liable for those actions or inactions.
In addition to the perpetrator, other potentially responsible parties may include:
- A school
- A hospital
- A business
- The perpetrator's employer or
- Another entity that either knew or should have known of the abuse.
In church-related sexual abuse situations, the Church may be liable for misconduct because it:
- Negligently hired the perpetrator without proper screening or evaluation.
- Negligently supervised the perpetrator.
- Retained the perpetrator even after receiving information indicating that they posed a risk of harm to others.
- Covered up the matter, for example, by transferring the priest to another parish.
Which Financial Damages Can Our Abuse Injury Attorneys Request for Clergy Sexual Abuse in Pensacola or Elsewhere?
If a sexual abuse survivor prevails in a civil lawsuit against a defendant, the punishment is not imprisonment. Instead, punishment is ordered in the form of monetary damages. For many victims, there is an undeniable connection between child sexual abuse and mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Treating these concerns can be expensive and time-consuming.
For the victim of a sexual assault, the suffering is pervasive, and the lifelong damage is incalculable. It may have a lasting effect on your relationships, career, quality of life, and more. Money cannot change what happened, but it can help you deal with the consequences. You may need compensation to help pay for the effects of your trauma, including but not limited to:
- Past and ongoing emotional trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety disorders
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Difficulty holding employment
- Reduced quality of life
Injunctive Relief May Be Available For Abuse Survivors
In addition to financial compensation, you may wish to pursue injunctive relief. An injunction is a court order for the defendant to stop a specific act or behavior. Some lawsuits have asked for injunctive relief to compel the dioceses to release information that they had given to the grand jury to the public and to permit reporters to review records for accuracy. The primary goal of such injunctions is to help prevent future abuse by disclosing credibly accused clergy members in public records.
Who Are the Victims of Sexual Abuse?
In sexual abuse cases involving minors, typically 82 percent of all sex abuse victims under 18 are female. However, regarding sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, statistics show that there are more male victims than female victims. This may be partly because priests and other clergy members traditionally had more access to male youth. That statistic began to change in the 1990s. After that time, access to female youth increased, and along with it, the percentage of female victims. When it comes to adult victims of clergy sex abuse, the ratios shift, and most adult victims are female.
Ordinary Statute of Limitations Does Not Apply for Sexual Abuse of Minors
The statute of limitations sets the time limit that a potential plaintiff has to file a particular type of civil lawsuit. For sexual abuse claims by minors, the ordinary statute of limitations does not necessarily apply. Sexual abuse claims involving minors often faced filing problems because the alleged abuse usually occurred many years ago, when the victim was young.
In the United States, only about one-third of child sexual abuse victims report their allegations before adulthood. Another one-third don't disclose their abuse until well into adulthood (the median age is 52). The rest never come forward at all. In the case of sexual abuse, the statute of limitations changes based on the age of the victim when the abuse took place. For example:
- With sexual battery involving a minor under 16 years old, there is no statute of limitations.
- Sexual abuse victims have seven years after they reach the age of majority to bring a civil lawsuit. The age of majority is 18 years old in Florida.
- Or, if the victim was a minor at the time of the abuse, they have four years to file after they “leave the dependency of the abuser or four years from the time of the discovery of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse,” whichever is later.
Reasons Why Sex Abuse Survivors Wait to Report The Abuse
Church authorities often ask why individuals took so long to come forward after the abuse occurred. Merely asking that question implies that the victim had some share in the blame, which is untrue. Many people do not understand the intense impact of abuse on victims. However, experts have explained the complicated and long-term effects of clergy sexual abuse.
Survivors of clergy abuse were usually children at the time of the assault. They may have been subject to coercion, unable to comprehend what was happening, or unable to talk about it. Sexual assault is extremely traumatic. In clergy cases, the situation is intensified by the revered status of the perpetrator. The child is very aware of the power inequity.
In some cases, when a child immediately disclosed the abuse, parents or church authorities did not believe them. The statute of limitations with regard to these cases is changing and complicated. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you should consult an attorney, no matter when the abuse took place, to learn more about your particular rights.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Sexual Abuse?
Sexual assault causes many different types of pain. The victim is injured physically as well as emotionally. Child sexual abuse by clergy often starts with a period of grooming. This can leave the child feeling guilty, ashamed, and responsible for what happened. The child may suffer emotional paralysis and not disclose the abuse until they are an adult.
Sexual abuse effects are often long-term and can harm multiple areas of the survivor's life. Ongoing concerns include:
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Body image issues
- Dissociative disorders
- Sexual problems
- Relationship problems
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical professional help.
As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, know that you are not alone. The sexual abuse of children and youth is pervasive and appalling. Despite the increased awareness of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, far too little has been done to stop it. About eight in 10 U.S. adults say the reports of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic clergy reflect “ongoing problems that are still happening” in the church. Still, every day, more courageous survivors are coming forward and taking legal action.
How the Sexual Abuse Attorneys at Dolman Law Group Can Help You in Pensacola and Throughout Florida
If you are a survivor of clergy sexual assault, you are entitled to be heard. You have the right to seek compensation and justice for the harm caused by a sexual assault. We understand that sexual assault is an extremely sensitive issue. Our attorneys have the compassion and skills to help you talk about this deeply personal matter.
The legal process is complex. You need an experienced sexual assault attorney by your side to guide you through the process and obtain the best possible outcome for your case. Our free consultations are always held in the strictest confidence, and we have offices across both Florida coasts for your convenience.