Posted: September 17, 2019

Sexual abuse is always tragic. When it is perpetrated by a trusted, respected, and often revered adult, the consequences can be both profound and long-lasting. Many childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse are unable to come to terms with their horrible mistreatment and suffer well into adulthood with increased instances of: 

  • Depression 
  • Somatic symptom disorder 
  • Anxiety 
  • Dissociative patterns 
  • Eating disorders 

Men and women who have suffered sexual abuse by a priest or other church official are also more likely to struggle with finding meaningful relationships, develop sexual dysfunctions such as repression, and to suffer from guilt and shame resulting from their attack. And all of this as a result of abuse from someone who was supposed to be safe and offer protection, both literal and spiritual. 

How Big is the Problem? 

Last year, a grand jury report detailing seven decades of abuse at six dioceses across Pennsylvania was released to the public. While heavily redacted, this report identified more than  1,000 victims of more than 300 priests serving in Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Not only an investigation into instances of abuse, this shocking report details how church officials worked to cover up the crimes and protect the clergy members who were guilty of assaulting children. Not once, but over and over again. 

This tragic news sent shock throughout the nation, but it is far from isolated. In fact, since the release of the grand jury report, allegations of sexual abuse from clergy members and subsequent cover-ups by the church have been made against dioceses in New Jersey, Utah, Texas, and throughout the world.  

Despite decades of reports from the United States and beyond, the Catholic Church has failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse in any meaningful way. When scandal surrounds new reports of abuse, official statements are released and condolences are offered, but real action to protect future victims has never been taken. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently released a report on the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Carried out by StoneBridge Business Partners between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, compliance was determined by visiting 61 dioceses and collecting information from an additional 133. According to the report: “All dioceses/eparchies were found compliant with the guidelines of the Charter except for the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy, and the Syrian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance, who were found non-compliant with certain articles of the Charter.”  

The audit, paid for and overseen by the church, identified 695 allegations of abuse from clergy members by 654 victims and survivors. Twenty-four of these victims are currently minors who have only recently been abused. The report claims all current instances of abuse are referred to law enforcement. It should be noted that, since a majority of dioceses were allowed to self-audit, this report may not paint a fully accurate picture. 

More Steps to be Taken 

Pope Francis summoned bishops from around the world to a February 2019 meeting in Rome. This meeting is the first to focus on protecting minors from sexual abuse and the first meeting of the presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide that was called for just one issue. 

According to The New York Times, while there, bishops were to receive training in how to identify abuse, intervene when it is suspected, and counsel victims in its aftermath. However, if abuse is as systemic as decades of reports suggest, these steps may be far too little too late. 

The National Catholic Reporter reports that, between 1965 and 2015, “[t]he U.S. Catholic church has incurred nearly $4 billion in costs related to the priest sex abuse crisis,” in addition to an estimated $2.3 billion annually in lost memberships, diverted giving, and similar scandal-related consequences. This report may not show the full scope of abuse, however, due to settlements with nondisclosure or confidentiality restrictions being excluded from the results. 

Victims Have Rights 

Victims of clergy abuse have every right to hold their attackers accountable - not just for the crime itself, but for all emotional and physical consequences that may have resulted from it. Clergy members who have committed sexual crimes against minors may be held criminally liable and face consequences for their actions, but this does little to help their victims. Civil action in which damages are sought remains one of the most effective ways for those harmed by abusive priests to get justice. 

Kline & Specter, PC, has significant experience in helping victims of sexual abuse hold their attackers accountable. Our firm in 2018 obtained the largest-ever settlement with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia following a civil suit that accused a priest of sexually abusing an altar boy over several years of church officials of covering up the crime; the monetary amount of the settlement is confidential. Recently, the defrocked priest involved, Robert Brennan, was arrested on criminal charges.

It is important to remember that there is a statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases in most states, making it important that victims come forward as soon as they are able. Our attorneys are available to provide compassionate and confidential support to help the victims of clergy abuse achieve justice.
For a free evaluation of your case, please call 215-772-1000. Kline & Specter has offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cherry Hill, N.J., Wilmington, Del., and New York City, and handles cases nationwide.