Can The Catholic Church Be Sued?
Yes. Survivors of clergy abuse have filed lawsuits against Catholic dioceses, religious orders, church leaders and individual abusive clergy members. Some lawsuits have even named the Vatican as a defendant for its role in the sexual abuse scandal.
Why Are Survivors Filing Lawsuits Against The Church?
Survivors have filed thousands of Catholic Church lawsuits in the past decade. There are two main reasons for this recent wave of priest sexual abuse lawsuits.
Survivors Are Reporting Older Cases Of Abuse
Many survivors coming forward with new allegations of priest abuse were abused many years ago.
Survivors Have More Legal Options
Recognizing the time it takes for survivors to report abuse, lawmakers in many states have recently expanded the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (criminal charges versus a civil claim).
In some states, victims who were abused decades ago are now able to take legal action against their abusers. Some survivors are even able to sue the organization that hid the abuse.
As more states expand the rights of sexual abuse victims, the number of priest abuse lawsuits is expected to rise.
Many survivors are enlisting lawyers to help them seek justice against the institutions that harmed them. Our attorneys can help you determine if your case is viable based on your state’s laws around child sexual abuse claims.
Learn More About Your State’s Laws
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Can You Sue A Bankrupt Diocese?
No. When a diocese files for bankruptcy, all legal claims against the dioceses are paused.
However, you can seek compensation from the diocese by filing an abuse claim with the bankruptcy court. Visit our bankruptcy page to learn more about the Catholic dioceses currently in bankruptcy proceedings and how it impacts victims of sexual abuse.
How To File A Sex Abuse Claim Against The Church
The details of filing a claim will vary by survivor based on where the abuse took place and its severity. Our experienced lawyers can help you build a solid case against the responsible diocese based on your unique case details.
Start the conversation with our legal team today by submitting a free, confidential case review.
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Can You Sue A Priest?
Yes. You can sue the Catholic priest or clergy member that abused you. Additionally, many survivors also sue Catholic dioceses or the church leaders who concealed the priest’s abuse.
Many accused priests have been named in civil lawsuits and have been criminally charged. Your legal options to seek justice against a priest or clergy member will depend on a couple of factors:
- When the abuse occurred
- Where the abuse occurred
- The applicable statute of limitations
If the abuser (defendant) is found guilty in a criminal case, they may face probation or time in prison. The victim (plaintiff) would only receive money if the court requires the defendant to pay restitution to the plaintiff.
If the abuser (defendant) is found liable in a civil case, they must pay a monetary award to the victim (plaintiff). The amount of the award is determined by the jury. The award covers any damages caused by the abuse.
Can Priests Be Prosecuted?
Yes. Many Catholic priests have been prosecuted and convicted for sexual abuse against minors.
However, historically, many priests accused of abuse have avoided prosecution. Many Catholic dioceses have concealed the crimes of abusive priests from law enforcement agencies.
Can You File A Lawsuit Against A Dead Priest?
Yes. If the priest who abused you has died, you may still be able to file a priest sex abuse lawsuit.
You may be able to sue the deceased priest’s estate. However, many survivors choose to file civil claims against the Catholic diocese where their abuse took place.
Where Can I File A Lawsuit Against A Priest?
Survivors often file Catholic sexual abuse lawsuits in the state where the abuse took place or in the state where the responsible diocese was located. This decision may come down to the statutes in each applicable state.
For example, the former Jesuit priest Donald J. McGuire abused two boys at their school in Illinois and near a resort in Wisconsin. When the survivors came forward with abuse allegations, the Illinois statute had expired. However, the survivors were still able to press criminal charges against McGuire in Wisconsin.
How To File A Sex Abuse Claim Against A Priest
A knowledgeable lawyer can help you determine if you should take legal action against an abusive priest or diocese. He or she will take the time to listen to the details of your abuse and determine the best course of action based on your past trauma.
With more than 30 years of experience, our legal team at The Meneo Law Group can help you seek the compensation and justice you deserve.
Were You Sexually Abused by a Catholic Priest?
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History Of Clergy Abuse Lawsuits
Historically, the Catholic Church has concealed priest sexual abuse from parishioners, the general public and law enforcement. But, several major events exposed the widespread abuse in Catholic dioceses across the country.
- In 1985, former Louisiana Catholic priest Gilbert Gauthe was one of the first priests criminally convicted for child sexual abuse.
- In 2002, The Boston Globe published a series documenting pervasive clergy abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. This was the first in-depth expose of clergy abuse in the national media.
- In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report identified more than 300 predator priests and more than 1,000 victims in the state’s Catholic dioceses.
These three events, as well as smaller media coverage, prompted clergy sex abuse lawsuits, investigations and legislative changes.
States Expand Victims’ Rights
Lawmakers in many states have proposed or passed legislation to help victims of clergy abuse. Numerous states have expanded their legal deadlines for child sexual abuse claims.
Several states have also opened retroactive “look back” windows to give new opportunities to survivors with expired claims. The states of California, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina currently have open “look back” windows for childhood sexual abuse survivors.
Washington, D.C. also has an open “look back” window that will close on May 2, 2021.
Priest Abuse By State
To learn more about clergy abuse in specific states, visit our individual state pages:
Church and Priest Abuse Lawsuit FAQs
Can You File A Civil Lawsuit Against A Priest If You Are Over 55 Years Old?
Potentially. Whether your legal claim is still viable depends on the state where you file the claim and the state’s statute of limitations.
For example, Vermont statutes allow survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their abuser at any time. But, in New York, the state’s civil statute expires when a survivor reaches the age of 55.
Currently, the state of New York has an open “look back” window for abuse survivors.
Anyone in New York can file an abuse claim until the window closes on August 14, 2021. This includes adults over age 55 with older claims of abuse.
How Much Money Can I Win From A Priest Abuse Lawsuit?
In total, the Catholic Church has paid more than $3 billion to clergy abuse victims. The actual amount a victim may receive varies depending on the type of settlement and details of the abuse.
Can You Sue The Vatican?
Yes. The Vatican has been named in several lawsuits, including one federal class action lawsuit against the Catholic Church.
Typically, these lawsuits claim the governing body played a leadership role in concealing clergy abuse. Vatican policies, written and unwritten, instructed bishops and church officials to keep abuse allegations secret. Many lawsuits claim these past policies allowed abuse to continue in the Catholic Church.
Should I Sue The Priest Or The Church?
Whether you can sue an institution or individual for abuse may come down to state laws. Our attorneys can help you determine whom to sue in a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit.
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If you or a loved one have suffered from the physical, mental and emotional effects of institutional sex abuse, you’re entitled to legal representation and possible financial compensation.
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Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
Ron Meneo is the managing partner of The Meneo Law Group. With more than 40 years of experience, he represents clients across the country on a variety of complex legal matters, including personal injury due to institutional sexual abuse, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and other practice areas. He is a recipient of Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV® Preeminent Rating. He has also served as an editor and contributor for several legal journals.
Bowden, E., Edelman, S. (2019, December 17). Catholic Church sex abuse victims are suing the pope. New York Post.
Condon, B., Mustian, J. (2019, December 1). Surge of new abuse claims threatens church like never before. The Associated Press.
Falconer, R. (2019, May 15). Sexual abuse survivors sue the Vatican over predatory U.S. priests. Axios.
Jackman, T. (2018, November 14). U.S. Catholic church hit with two national lawsuits by sex-abuse victims. The Washington Post.
Povoledo, E. (2019, December 17). Pope Francis Abolishes Secrecy Policy in Sexual Abuse Cases. The New York Times.