Priest Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Sexual abuse by Catholic priests has received more media attention than any other type of childhood sexual abuse. A comprehensive study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice revealed that about 4% of Catholic priests had engaged in sexual abuse. Since 2004, more than 800 priests have been defrocked and more than 2,500 others faced lesser sanctions as a result of sexual abuse.
It is more difficult to track abuse among other clergy, since many of the thousands of Protestant sects do not have centralized oversight as the Catholic church does. However, various estimates have suggested that the abuse rates are comparable.
Unlike teachers, coaches, and others who may be in a position to sexually abuse children, priests and other members of the clergy often have access to the child for an extended period. Their relationships with children and teens may extend beyond the clear structure that an environment such as school or an athletic team offers, as the priest may serve as a counselor, confessor, family friend, youth activity leader and play many other roles.
Priest Sexual Abuse Statistics
The John Jay study, which spanned more than 50 years, determined that more than 80% of the minors sexually abused by priests were male. More than ¾ were between the ages of 11 and 17. The types of abuse suffered at the hands of priests varied widely, ranging from inappropriate touching to full intercourse or oral sex.
Liability for Sexual Abuse by Priests
When a priest molests a child, responsibility for that abuse generally extends beyond the individual involved. The Roman Catholic Church has paid out billions of dollars to sexual abuse victims, with the size of the awards attributable in large part to the way church officials had handled allegations of abuse. While other religious organizations may not have hierarchies that are as clear and far-reaching, the organization that employs the priest or pastor still bears responsibility for care in hiring, training, and supervision, as well as handling of any warning signs or allegations made.
Pennsylvania Law Protects Childhood Victims of Sexual Abuse
Many child victims of abuse by a priest or other member of the clergy keep the abuse to themselves, for a variety of reasons. The child may be ashamed or fear that he will be blamed for the abuse. He may expect that his parents or other authorities will not believe him because of the respected position the priest holds. He may be confused by the faith he has in the church and the priest’s role as a representative of God. Worse, he may talk to a parent, teacher, or other religious leader, only to have his claims dismissed or be chastised for making such allegations. Many victims of sexual abuse even repress memory of the encounters for years.
Pennsylvania law was written to ensure that childhood victims of sexual abuse have the opportunity to confront their abusers as adults. Although the statute of limitations in most civil cases is much shorter, a sexual abuse victim who was a minor at the time of the abuse has until 12 years from his 18th birthday (in practical effect, age 30) to file a lawsuit against the abuser.
This allows victims who were unable to come forward as children or who recovered memories of abuse in adulthood to seek justice through the court system. In certain cases, an attorney experienced in sexual abuse litigation may even find a way to pursue the claim after the statute of limitations has expired.
Damages in Priest Sexual Abuse Cases
Every victim of sexual abuse suffers different damages. One common thread among most, however, is the need for extensive psychological care to recover from the abuse and rebuild the ability to trust. This may be especially difficult in the case of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, as the damage may extend beyond lost trust in authority to the victim’s relationship with his family and with his faith may be seriously damaged.
A Sexual Abuse Attorney Can Be Your Best Resource
When you or your child has been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest or other religious leader, it may be difficult to stand up and demand justice. Working with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer can ease the stress of the confrontation and put the power back in your hands. Schedule your free consultation right now to learn more about how we can help.