Tampa Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer

December 20, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

It's been nearly four decades since grown victims began sharing their childhood stories about sexually abusive priests. A stream of horrific allegations shocked Tampa and people across the nation. Eventually, the Catholic Church settled at least 5,679 victims' cases. Courts convicted and jailed chronic abusers, while other priests died without ever admitting what they'd done.

Get the justice you deserve and speak with a Tampa Catholic Church Sexual Abuse attorney about your case.

A Pennsylvania grand jury report motivated local and national authorities to take a new look at the ongoing scandal.

A Department of Justice study documented 1,000 Pennsylvania Catholic Church sexual abuse victims, some with previously unreported allegations. They found instances where the Church knew of abuse allegations yet failed to act. Investigators documented how some accused priests simply transferred to a new diocese in a new city or state. Transfers gave priests a chance to continue their allegedly abusive behaviors in Tampa and other locations.

If a priest or church official sexually abused you, please call our compassionate Tampa Sexual Abuse lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA. We understand the legal issues involved and aren't afraid to take on a large institution like the Catholic Church—but we also care about our clients, the damage that sexual abuse has caused them, and the often wrenching decisions they need to make. We want to help you. Please call us today.

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Why You Need Dolman Law Group’s Tampa Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawyers

Dolman Law Tampa Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer Team standing and sitting behind large table

The emotional and physical toll that sexual abuse has on survivors is unimaginable. You may struggle with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other issues. These challenges can prevent you from pursuing legal options and consequences you may have, as taking action requires reliving the abuse.

We understand that it is difficult to discuss your sexual trauma with a Tampa Catholic church sexual abuse attorney, but our team has experience handling these cases with sensitivity and compassion. All consultations are confidential, and we treat your story with the respect you deserve.

Most importantly, Dolman Law Group is your advocate and ally during this process. We have resources available to build your case and pursue justice. We can also connect you with local and national resources for sexual assault survivors.

We can take the following steps to help your case:

  • Investigate the facts of your case
  • Identifying potential defendants
  • Evaluate legal statutes
  • Negotiate with insurance companies
  • Representing you during civil litigation
  • Review settlement offers and compensation options
  • Evaluate damages associated with the abuse
  • Provide you with resources to cope with the trauma
  • Assist with the criminal process if it applies

Dolman Law Group has offices throughout the state, including one in Tampa. You can find us on Prestige Place off Monroes Business Park. We offer free case reviews for personal injury clients, so please never hesitate to take steps toward getting justice for your abuse. Speak to our Tampa Catholic church sexual abuse attorney today.

Who Can File a Sexual Abuse Claim in Tampa?

One aspect of the legal process is identifying your eligibility to file a claim. Sometimes, this will depend on how old you were when the abuse occurred and how many years have passed. Repressed memories and the strength of evidence can also determine eligibility for civil actions.

During your free and confidential case evaluation, we will evaluate your options. Often, our clients are:

  • Adult victims of church sexual abuse
  • Child victims with their parents
  • Adult survivors who suffered sexual abuse as minors

Sadly, according to the NCBI, the average Catholic church sex abuse victim is an average of 12 years old. A third of victims are 13, and 25 percent are 14 years old or older. The majority were male (62.8 percent), with females making up 34.8 percent of abuse cases.

The statute of limitations can apply differently depending on the victim’s age and the facts of the case. A Catholic church sexual abuse attorney can help assess your legal options and work towards a settlement whenever possible.

Church Sexual Abuse Statistics

Catholic church sexual abuse has an extensive history. Even with cover-ups and protecting priests, the numbers can still be shocking. Reports indicate more than 6,000 allegations of sex abuse against the Church so far, resulting in around 3,000 lawsuits. While recent cases have received attention, abuse likely happened well before victims began coming forward. Many victims or abusers have passed away, which means we’ll likely never know the extent of abuse that happened within the Catholic Church.

Abuse Victims Have a Chance to Tell Their Stories

The Florida Attorney General announced plans to investigate all seven Catholic dioceses in Florida (the Diocese of St. Petersburg encompasses the Tampa area). The office has posted an online form for reporting alleged abuse events committed within the Catholic Church or any other institution. The information that victims provide will become an important part of an investigative database. The Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will use it to “identify institutional child sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups.”

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Victims Deserve Fair Compensation

If a Catholic priest sexually abused you, our attorneys understand that you have been waiting a long time for justice. The Attorney General's office is investigating past cases. They want to expose acts of abuse and determine if the Catholic Church participated in covering up crimes. There is currently no public program in place to help victims recover damages for physical or emotional injuries. If you are a priest abuse victim, you should work with a legal representative to recover the damages you deserve.

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we believe injured people deserve compensation no matter who is responsible. We understand the challenges of presenting a case for an adult who was victimized as a child.

Our Firm's Results

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Attorney, Matthew Dolman

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we've recovered millions in damages for our injured clients. We've negotiated settlements directly with responsible parties, commercial defendants, insurance companies, and defense attorneys. We've resolved cases during mediation and settlement conferences. When a trial was the most reasonable alternative, our attorneys presented our clients' evidence before a judge and jury.

We've worked hard for our injured clients, but as each case is unique, we can't promise a specific outcome. We share our case results to demonstrate our strong commitment to our injured clients.

The Priest Abuse Scandal

Priest Abuse Scandal

For decades, priests in dioceses across the country sexually abused children as young as four years old. Victims also included adolescents, teenagers, and adult seminary students under their control. Accused priests worked as teachers, clergy, counselors, and in other positions where they were highly respected and trusted. As their abusers were religious figures, children were often in awe of their perceived spirituality and religious affiliation. They often accepted their attention as a special favor.

Abusive Acts

The victims, who are now adults, have described sodomy, fondling, nude photography, skinny-dipping, and other acts. Despite their willingness to do what a priest requested, these acts were not legally consensual. A minor's age voids any alleged consent. Despite the priests' explanations or intent, the acts they committed were crimes.

Why Abusive Acts Continued

Priests were able to continue their abusive acts. Some children were too young to understand the significance of the acts. Others were too embarrassed or too scared to refuse or report what happened. Most of the children accepted their priests' abusive behaviors because of the religious authority they represented. Parents accepted weekends away, private counseling sessions, and other abuse opportunities as they never expected that a priest might harm their child.

Children's families sometimes reported sexual abuses not long after they occurred. In some cases, the Church recommended keeping the incidents secret. They often documented an incident report but failed to take further action. Despite years of denial, Catholic Church files contain reports, personal letters, and other evidence confirming knowledge of abusive acts. These items date as far back as the late 1940s.

What is Church Sexual Abuse?

Whenever a clergy member of the Catholic Church commits a sexual act without consent from another parishioner or child, it is church sexual abuse. The first factor to examine is who qualifies as a clergy member.

This usually refers to the following parties:

  • Monsignors
  • Deacons
  • Bishops
  • Priests

Legally, nuns, brothers, sisters, and cardinals might fall under the clergy category despite not being recognized as such by the Church.

Church sexual abuse happens in many ways, including:

  • Fondling
  • Rape
  • Exhibitionism, especially in front of a minor
  • Sex trafficking
  • Attempted rape
  • Sodomy
  • Sexual harassment
  • Extortion for sexual activities
  • Anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a minor
  • Masturbation in front of a minor or non-consenting party
  • Producing, sharing, or owning child pornography
  • Digital interaction, phone calls, and text messages of an obscene nature
  • Any sexual conduct that harms a child's physical, mental, or emotional well-being

Clergy members often use their power to take advantage of vulnerable members of the Church. They might use different tactics to coerce and exploit people to commit sexual acts.

Pedophile clergy have been running rampant in the Catholic Church for far too long. Our Tampa Catholic church sexual abuse attorneys are working to hold these people responsible for their actions.

Where Abuse Occurs 

Over two million Catholics attend one of the 450 parishes throughout Florida, with seven Catholic dioceses.

Sexual abuse has been reported in all seven dioceses, including:

Making matters worse, Florida is a dumping ground for problem priests. When their actions require a reassignment, they often end up here, putting parishioners and others in danger. Many northern dioceses send priests and clergy members to Florida when they run out of options in their current states. Then, Florida Catholic churches have prioritized secrecy over the safety of their parishioners.

When a clergy member commits sexual abuse, it is the highest breach of trust. These community and religious leaders guide millions of people on their spiritual journey. When they breach trust and cause harm, they should be responsible.

Our Tampa catholic church sexual abuse lawyers have been helping survivors get justice and compensation for their injuries and trauma for years, going up against various religious organizations. Trust Dolman Law Group to discuss your legal options.

Sexual abuse might also happen in the following locations:

  • Seminaries
  • Religious counseling
  • Retreats
  • Churches and parishes
  • Other Church-sponsored activities.

Often, our clients consist of:

  • Altar boys
  • Parishioners
  • Catholic grammar school students
  • Congregants

Survivors can be adults or children but are more often children. Perpetrators will pick people they deem to be vulnerable and easy targets. You no longer have to feel vulnerable and helpless at the hands of the Church. Speak to a Catholic church sexual abuse lawyer in Tampa if you suffer abuse from any clergy member.

Documenting Acts of Abuse

In the 1980s, adult victims began making public allegations against their alleged abusers. Some dioceses voluntarily settled with injured victims. Other victims filed lawsuits to recover damages. In some states, as incidents occurred decades prior, statutes of limitations prevented victims from pursuing damages.

In support of victims and in protest of the Catholic Church's refusal to take action, BishopAccountability.org began tracking and documenting priest abuse information. Their website contains a carefully curated collection of survivor accounts, priest assignment records, media articles, lawsuits, “secret archives,” and other information. The site managers have also created a timeline of priest sexual abuse and a database, searchable by a priest's name, diocese, or city. The website ProPublica.org has also created a searchable database.

“Priest Shuffling” Enabled Abusers

In dealing with reported abuses, the Catholic Church adopted an inadequate approach.

Superiors didn't punish those accused. Instead, they

  • Forgive the priest
  • “Rehabilitate” them
  • Return them to service

Often, a diocese skipped the rehabilitation and moved an abusive priest directly to another diocese with no warning of their prior bad behavior.

This post-abuse phenomenon is known as “priest shuffling.” It's responsible for maintaining a system where abusive priests or dioceses rarely dealt with consequences. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury's report and information at BishopAccountability.org illustrate this phenomenon by documenting abusive priests' assignment histories.

Abuse Accusations in the Tampa Area

Abuse Accusations in the Tampa Area

In a demonstration of transparency, Catholic Church dioceses across the country released lists of publicly accused priests. When the Associated Press compared official Church-compiled lists with records at Bishop Accountability.org, they found that 900 names were missing. Of the Florida dioceses, only the Tampa-area St. Petersburg Diocese released a list of publicly accused priests. Other dioceses have decided to wait until the Attorney General and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement completes its investigation.

Some of the publicly named priests have connections to several churches, schools, and Catholic Church-related institutions. The list below contains names of priests with identifiable connections to people, activities, and religious locations in the Tampa area. Because of “priest shuffling,” some names appear on several other dioceses' lists.

For a more comprehensive list of Florida catholic church sexual assault lawsuits, click HERE.

  • Jorge Acosta: A Salesian Order Priest: Acosta admitted having sexual relations with three students in 1983. Two men filed suits because of his actions. Several allegations date back to when he was a teacher and cleric at Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa.
  • Norman G. Balthazar: Diocesan Priest, St. Petersburg: Victims accused Balthazar based on activities that occurred at Christ the King Church in Tampa in 1971 and during the 1980s. Tampa police also arrested him for soliciting a minor in 1991.
  • John Casula: Salesian Priest of Don Bosco Order: An accuser alleged that Casula abused him while he was a student at Mary Help of Christians, a boarding school in Tampa.
  • Rocco Charles D'Angelo: Diocesan Priest, Miami, deceased: Four Tampa residents filed suits against D'Angelo for abusive acts committed during the 1980s. Records document a history of similar acts in several Florida dioceses.
  • Thomas J Hidding: Jesuit Brother, St. Petersburg, deceased: Publicly accused by students due to acts committed at Tampa Jesuit High School in 1980 and 1982.
  • Thomas Mulryan: Brother, Congregation of Holy Cross, St. Petersburg: Accused of sexual abuses during the 1960s while working in Rome, Italy. Mulryan also worked at several Catholic schools in the United States, including a Jesuit High School in Tampa. He denied previous allegations, and no one in the U.S. made additional allegations against him.
  • Terrence O'Donnell: Salesian Order Priest, St. Petersburg: Three students alleged that O'Donnell abused them at Mary Help of Christians Catholic School in Tampa.
  • Hubert J Reason: Diocesan Priest, St. Petersburg, deceased: Two boys in Tampa alleged that Reason abused them. They also alleged that he gave them money and alcohol and took them to wrestling matches. Two seminary students alleged that he “traded them around.”

Some of those priests were never convicted of any crimes. The accusations, however credible, remain accusations.

Injuries Caused by Childhood Abuse

As a result of the trauma endured through the abusive acts of the priests, these sexual abuse victims may suffer from severe emotional and psychological problems.

The Child Welfare fact sheet, “Long Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect,” discusses common physical, psychological, and behavioral issues.

  • Anxiety
  • Anger, guilt, shame, and aggression
  • Depression
  • Memory repression
  • Chronic stress
  • Unhealthy sex practices
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Physical problems caused by toxic stress
  • Potential for continuing the cycle of abuse
  • Social and health issues

To understand more of what a child is going through, learn the signs of child sexual assault so you can help a child in need.

Long-Term Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse on Adults

Chronic injuries are common in sexual abuse cases, and they can appear shortly after the attack and might be lifelong.

Some effects of clergy sexual abuse that might continue to affect adults include:

  • Self-abuse or harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional regulation issues
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Distress tolerance
  • Difficulty maintaining relationship
  • Digestive health issues
  • Difficulty with intimacy
  • Stunted development
  • Chronic pain syndrome
  • Heart-related issues

These symptoms can last for decades and require extensive treatment. Many are psychological conditions that require regular therapy visits. You can seek compensation for the expenses that arise from these treatments.

Coming Forward to Discuss Your Abuse with a Trusted Professional

Unfortunately, some victims are in denial or fail to realize their abuse until after relevant statutes of limitations pass, which can result in them losing legal options.

In response, various states across the country are enacting revival windows. This allows survivors to come forward when they are ready without worrying about missing tight deadlines. It also addresses the issue of repressed memories. Never avoid coming forward because you believe it is too late. Often, the law might still allow you to seek justice.

Abusive Priests

Abusive priests are ultimately responsible for their acts against children. They used the Catholic Church's authority and power to take advantage of young children in their care. In most cases, the abused victims were minors who were incapable of understanding or preventing the abuse.

Abused adult seminary victims were mature enough to understand what was happening. As with their child victims, priests often used their authority and power to threaten them into compliance.

Bishops and Supervisory Clergy

Church officials allowed an abusive culture to develop and continue within Catholic Church dioceses. They failed to supervise priests and the children within their care properly.

They didn't take proper precautions to prevent abuse from occurring. In some cases, Church officials ignored abuse allegations from victims' families and failed to take action. Church authorities worsened the problem by shuffling abusers off to another diocese, where they often committed additional abusive acts.

The Catholic Church

Internal Church records, priests' private files, and personal letters documented accounts of priests' sexual abuses dating back to the 1940s. Incidents continued unabated for decades.

The Church and its representatives had numerous opportunities to stop the ubiquitous trend. They could have chosen to protect young children. Instead, they chose to protect the priests and the Catholic Church by doing nothing.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims

As a survivor, you want to seek accountability for your trauma. Your life has significantly changed, and the perpetrators should be held responsible for their actions. Dolman Law Group has the experience and tenacity to handle your case and hold clergy and the Church liable for the harm you suffered. We will be your legal advocate and ally in this process.

Depending on your circumstances, you may have different legal options, including filing a civil lawsuit for personal injury from sexual abuse. This is where a Tampa personal injury attorney plays a crucial role, as we can assist in pursuing damages for your medical treatment, income losses, and pain and suffering. You can sometimes seek punitive damages for these losses. Punitive damages can be available in situations where the Church was covering up, protecting, or facilitating clergy abuse.

Injunctive relief and protective orders are other options you can pursue for justice. This can be against the perpetrator or the Catholic Diocese. These court orders require the other party to stop doing something or change processes. This aims to keep the perpetrator from having access to children, you, or other vulnerable parties. This can be an effective way to reduce the threats of harm to you or others.

We understand that money will not erase the trauma you suffered. It does not repair the damage you endured but can assist in paying for your losses. Medication, support, therapy, and other treatments are expensive. You should not bear the cost of these losses resulting from someone else's wrongful actions.

The Catholic Church has financial resources to pay victims, and your family or taxpayers shouldn't bear the financial burden. Discuss all your legal options with our team today.

What Damages Can a Priest Abuse Victim Recover?

When a plaintiff is successful in presenting a sexual abuse claim, they often recover economic, general, and, in some cases, punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages include medical bills, prescriptions, and other out-of-pocket costs. When treatment is ongoing, an economic expert sometimes projects future costs for settlement purposes. Economic costs include:

  • Income losses
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Medical and therapy bills
  • Prescription medications
  • Household services
  • Private nursing costs
  • Medical transportation expenses

General Damages

General damage settlements rely on the injured person's subjective assessments of their social, psychological, emotional, and lifestyle issues.

Damages often include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Depression
  • Mental anguish and emotional distress
  • Inability to perform spousal and family services
  • Functional impairments and disabilities

Based on Florida Statutes, §768.72, courts can award punitive damages. A plaintiff must show clear and convincing evidence that a plaintiff committed “intentional misconduct or gross negligence.”

How Has the Catholic Church Avoided Its Responsibility?

For decades, the Catholic Church chose to avoid responsibility for their priests' actions. They were in the unique position of maintaining control over the abused children, their families, and the information that can prove their cases. They abused that control and their power by denying that there was a problem and actively participating in cover-ups.

Statute of Limitations Defenses

After decades of hiding their priests' crimes, the Catholic Church still had Florida Statutes on its side. As the incidents occurred years in the past, the statute of limitations barred the adults' claims for damages sustained while they were children.

Fortunately, the State Legislature modified §95.11, Florida's statute of limitations provision. It now accommodates abuse victims by allowing the statute of limitations to commence from the “...time of discovery by the injured party of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse…” Unfortunately, the statute does not apply to vicarious liability incurred by bishops, the Catholic Church, or other supervisory entities.

Memory Issues

The trauma suffered as a result of sexual abuse impacts a victim's ability to recall and sequence past events. Additionally, the incidents occurred years ago, and many of the now-adult victims don't recall the details due to the amount of time that has elapsed. This has favored the Catholic Church in its efforts to deny that abusive events occurred.

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we've understood that abuse cases were fraught with complications. In recent years, the Catholic Church has taken a more cooperative stance, but we've always prepared our client's cases for unanticipated challenges. Our attorneys have researched and analyzed the evidence. We've prepared our cases to overcome creative defense strategies, and we've worked to produce the best possible outcomes.

Tampa Catholic Church Abuse Attorneys

Team of Catholic Church Abuse Attorneys in Tampa

If you or a family member sustained injuries because of a relationship with an abusive Tampa priest or Church official, you may have the right to recover damages. This right may apply even if the abuse occurred when you were a child.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, have convenient offices along both Florida coasts. Contact us today or dial (813) 303-0916 for your free, confidential consultation so we can determine if we can help. Attorney/client privilege protects your calls and messages to us.


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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