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 speak with a Tampa personal injury 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 Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman. 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.
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 you were sexually abused by a Catholic priest, 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 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 to which you are entitled.
At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, we believe that 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
At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, 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
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.
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 would 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 dating as far back as the late 1940s.
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 would.
- 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
In a demonstration of transparency, Catholic Church dioceses across the country released lists of publicly accused priests. When Associated Press compared official Church-compiled lists with records at Bishopaccountability.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 their investigation.
Some of the priests who were publicly named 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 a time 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’Donnel 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 behavior issues.
- Anger, guilt, shame, and aggression
- 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.
Who Is Responsible for Priest Abuse-Related Injuries?
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 properly supervise priests and the children within their care. 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.
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 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:
- Wage losses
- Diminished earning capacity
- Medical and therapy bills
- Prescription medications
- Household services
- Private nursing costs
- Medical transportation expenses
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
- 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 could 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 their 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.
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, 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 Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, 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
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. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers have convenient offices along both Florida coasts. Contact us today or dial 833-552-7274 for a free, confidential consultation so we can determine if we can help you. Attorney/client privilege protects your calls and messages to us.