Church Sexual Abuse Lawsuits by Clergy – Prosecution Information Center Blog


It now appears that there could be thousands of former victims who were sexually abused as children at the hands of priests, ministers and other church members. Our clergy sex abuse lawyers represent these victims of abuse in civil lawsuits against churches and religious organizations that have failed to protect them.

Sexual abuse by clergy and church members

Over the past 15 years, the extent of the sexual abuse of children by ministers, priests and other members of religious organizations has received increased attention and recognition. Sexual abuse and cover-up scandals within the Catholic Church, in particular, are increasingly coming to light. Unfortunately, it seems that the problem of priests sexually abusing the children in their care was more widespread than most people would like to believe.

The other hard truth that has also become increasingly clear is that organizational leaders within many churches (particularly the Catholic Church) were aware of various incidents of abuse and sought to cover them up instead of defend the victims.

When a child is sexually abused by a priest, minister or other authority figure in the church, it can have very harmful psychological effects that stay with him for the rest of his life. Victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergy bear very real and very disturbing emotional scars. Fortunately, increased awareness of this issue has given many victims the courage to come forward and led to changes in the law that allow them to hold abusive clergy (and churches) accountable.

Civil lawsuits for sexual abuse in the church

Victims of sexual abuse by priests or church members now have more options than ever if they want justice for what happened to them. In the past, victims of child sexual abuse were often limited to criminal prosecution. Filing a civil lawsuit for the abuse was often not an option because the abuser had no financial resources or the statute of limitations had expired.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Today, however, the legal options available to victims of clergy sex abuse are vastly improved. Over the past decade, the majority of US states have passed new laws making it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to pursue civil lawsuits. For example, 28 states have extended the statute of limitations for bringing a civil action for child sexual abuse. New York and a handful of other states have actually eliminated the statute of limitations on such claims entirely. This allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue years or even decades after the fact, when they are adults and better able to deal with the emotional toll.

The other significant legal change was the increased ability for victims to impose civil liability for abuse on the church or religious organizations. Filing a civil suit against the priest or minister who committed the abuse is often useless because they rarely have the money to pay the damages. The current trend in clergy sex abuse lawsuits has been to hold the church liable either as the abuser’s employer or for negligently failing to protect children from abuse.

Organizational defendants in civil lawsuits for clergy sex abuse

Victims who successfully bring a clergy sex abuse lawsuit against the church or religious organization will be entitled to financial compensation for what happened to them. Victims of clergy sexual abuse are entitled to various types of civil damages, including:

  • Medical fees: Clergy victims of sexual abuse are entitled to compensation for the cost of all past and future medical expenses that are incurred as a direct result of the abuse. This often includes the cost of a lifetime of mental health counseling or related treatment.
  • pain and suffering: This is usually an important consideration in cases of sexual abuse, as mental and emotional pain and suffering are obviously important consequences of abuse.
  • lost income: if a plaintiff can prove that the sexual abuse and resulting mental suffering caused him to earn less money during his life, he may be entitled to recover damages for this.
  • Punitive damages: In some states, victims may be able to impose punitive damages on defendants in clergy sex abuse cases.

Since 2007, religious institutions in the United States have paid approximately $3.5 billion in financial compensation to victims of child sexual abuse.

Settlement Value of Church Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Filing a civil lawsuit for clergy sex abuse can be stressful and very emotional for most victims. Before deciding whether or not to face the pain of a lawsuit, most victims want to know how much compensation they can reasonably expect and what their chances of winning will be.

Civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse by priests or church members tend to have very high potential value as long as there are no legal barriers to the claim (e.g. statute of limitations) and that there is a viable religious organization to name as a defendant. Based on past verdicts and reported settlements, the average value of a good clergy sex abuse lawsuit is approximately $275,000 to $350,000. Depending on the circumstances of the cases, however, the value can potentially be much higher.

The other good thing about clergy sex abuse lawsuits is that they tend to settle more frequently than other types of cases. If the claimant has valid claims (i.e. there is reliable evidence that the alleged abuse actually happened), most churches will be very keen to settle and avoid any negative publicity. . These cases very rarely go to trial.

Some religious organizations such as the Catholic Church are so often sued in sexual abuse cases that they treat them more like insurance claims than civil lawsuits. For example, in many large cities, the Catholic Archdiocese has retained the services of third-party administrators to process and settle incoming sexual abuse lawsuits.

Accused of religious organizations in recent sex abuse lawsuits

Most of the public attention has focused on the sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church. It is certainly well deserved, as Catholic archdioceses across the United States have paid approximately $2.9 billion in compensation to victims of sexual abuse. This represents more than 80% of all compensation paid by religious organizations in sexual abuse lawsuits. While the Catholic Church is certainly the frontrunner, it is certainly not the only religious institution regularly cited in sexual abuse lawsuits. Below are the main religious institutions that have recently been the subject of sexual abuse lawsuits:

Royal Rangers / Assemblies of God

The Royal Rangers is like a Christian version of the boy scouts led by the Assemblies of God Church. The Rangers have recently been the subject of a growing number of sexual abuse lawsuits brought by former members of the programs who alleged they were sexually abused as children while scouting. The Royal Ranger troop leaders accused of the attack have already received criminal convictions. Read more about the Royal Rangers sex abuse prosecution

Archdiocese of Los Angeles

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million to settle the claims of 500 victims who claimed to have been sexually abused by members of the clergy. 220 clergy in the Diocese of LA have been identified as having committed acts of abuse.

Archdiocese of Pittsburgh

In 2020, the Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh paid $19.2 million in compensation to resolve the claims of 224 victims who made “credible” allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy in the Pittsburgh area.

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