Clergy Abuse Claims bankrupt Catholic Dioceses

Clergy abuse claims bankrupt Catholic dioceses in many cases.  In just the last 14 years, claims from more than 4,000 victims of abuse by clergy — or priest abuse — have driven 19 different Catholic dioceses or religious orders into bankruptcy.  The watchdog group BishopAccountability.org  put the bankruptcy list together in May of this year.

Related: Abuse by Clergy Lawsuit

Here is a list of 19 bankrupted Catholic dioceses or religious orders, the dates they filed for bankruptcy protection, the settlement amount they agreed to pay, the number of alleged abuse survivors.

  1. Archdiocese of Portland Oregon:  filed 7/6/04 — $75 million settlement.  At the time the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, some 170 people had filed abuse suits.
  2. Diocese of Tucson, Arizona:  9/20/04 — $22.2 million.  At least 26 victims
  3. Diocese of Spokane, Washington:  12/6/04 — $48 million.  ~ 175 victims
  4. Diocese of Davenport, Iowa:  10/10/06 — $37 million.  156 victims
  5. Diocese of San Diego, California:  2/27/07 — $198 million. 144 victims
  6. Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska:  3/1/08 — $9.8 million.  ~ 300 victims
  7. Oregon Province of the Jesuits:  2/17/09 — $166 million.  Nearly 500 victims
  8. Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware: 10/18/09 — $77 million.  142 victims
  9. Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 1/4/11 — $21 million.  ~330 victims Congregation of the Christian Brothers:  4/28/11 — $16.5 million.  400+ victims
  10. Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico: 11/12/13 — $22 million.  ~ 57 victims
  11. Diocese of Stockton, California: 1/15/14 — $15 million.
  12. Diocese of Helena, Montana: 1/31/14 — $20 million. 362 victims
  13. Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn.: 1/16/15 — $210 million.  ~400 victims
  14. Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota: 12/7/15 — Ongoing
  15. Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota:  3/3/17 — Ongoing
  16. Diocese of Great Falls-Billings Montana: 3/31/17 — $20 million.  86 victims (pending judicial approval)
  17. Crosier Fathers and Brothers Minnesota & Arizona: 6/1/17 — $25 million.  400+
  18. Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota:  intention announced 2/28/18 — Ongoing

More Catholic Dioceses’ and Religious Orders’ Settlements  

Catholic dioceses and religious orders have paid out nearly $3 billion in out-of-court settlements since the mid 1980s, according to BishopAccountability.org.  Here is a list of the major awards and settlements since 2000, the place, the amount paid out, the number of alleged victims.

2000-03-15:  Santa Rosa, California — $1.6 million – 4 victims

2000-12-04:  Los Angeles, California: $5.2 million — 1

2001-03-08:  Bridgeport, Connecticut — $15 million — 26

2001-12:  Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — $5 million — 1

2002-01-30:  Tucson, Arizona — $14 million — 11

2002-04-01:  Orange and LA, California — $1.2million — 1

2002-06:  Los Angeles, California — $1.5 million — 1

2002-06-14:  Omaha, Nebraska —  $800.000 — 1

2002-08-23:  Orange, California — $400.000 — 1

2002-09-04:  Los Gatos, California — Jesuits — $7.5 million — 2

2002-09-09:  Providence, Rhode Island — $13.5 million — 36

2002-09-18:  Boston, Massachusetts — $10 million — 86

2002-10-10:  Manchester, New Hampshire — $950.000 — 16

2002-11-26:  Manchester, New Hampshire — $5.1 million — 62

2003-01-09:  Boston, Massachusetts (Jesuits) — $5.8 million — 15

2003-01-29:  Metuchen, New Jersey — $800,000 — 10

2003-03-13:  Camden, New Jersey — $880,000– 23

2003-05-08:  Manchester, New Hampshire — $815.000 — 4

2003-05-22: Manchester, New Hampshire — $6.5 million — 61

2003-05-22: Manchester, New Hampshire — $2.1 million — 33

2003-06-10:  Louisville, Kentucky — $25.7 million — 243

2003-06-30: San Bernardino, California — $4.2 million — 2

2003-07-01:  Chicago, Illinois — $1.9 million — 1

2003-07-10:  Chicago, Illinois — $4 million — 4

2003-08-14 — Tucson, Arizona — $1.8 million — 5

2003-09-09 — Boston, Massachusetts — $84.2 million — 552

2003-09-11 — Seattle, Washington — $7.9 million — 15

2003-10-02 — Chicago, Illinois — $8 million — 15

2003-10-11 — Covington, Kentucky — $5.2 million — 27

2003-10-16 — Bridgeport, Connecticut — $21million — 40

2003-11-24 — Oakland, California — $1 million — 1

2003-12-04 — Covington, Kentucky — $1million — 5

2004 — Bridgeport, Connecticut — $40,000 — 2

2004-01-23 — Oakland, California — $3 million — 1

2004-01-28 — Covington, Kentucky — $2 million — 7

2004-04-15 — St. Petersburg, Florida — $1.1 million — 12

2004-04-21 — St. Louis, Missouri — $1.7 million — 1

2004-05-27 — Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania — $3.7 million — 21

2004-07-03 — Toledo, Ohio — $500,000 — 2

2004-08-17 — Springfield, Massachusetts — $7.8 million — 46

2004-08-20 — Toledo, Ohio — $1.2 million — 23

2004-08-26 — St. Louis, Missouri  — $2 million — 18

2004-09-22 — Miami, Florida — $3.4 million — 23

2004-10-08 — Newark, New Jersey — $1 million — 10

2004-10-28 — Davenport, Iowa — $9 million — 37

2004-12-02 — Orange, California — $100 million — 91

2004-12-17 — Seattle, Washington — $1.8 million — 12

2004-12-23 — Oakland, California — $6.3 million — 3

2005-02-15 — Paterson, New Jersey — $5 million — 27

2005-03-08 — Cincinnati, Ohio — $3.2 million — 120

2005-03-24 — Oakland, California — $437,000 — 1

2005-03-31 — Fort Worth, Texas — $1.4 million — 1

2005-04-07 — Fairbanks, Alaska-Jesuits — $1 million — 1

2005-04-09 — Fort Worth, Texas — $2.7 million — 1

2005-04-15 — Oakland, California — $1.9 million — 2

2005-04-20 — San Francisco, California — $5.8 million — 4

2005-04-22 — Santa Rosa, California — $3.3 million — 1

2005-05 — Orlando & St. Augustine, Florida — $1.5 million — 3

2005-05-09 — Davenport, Iowa — $1.9 million — 1

2005-05-19 — Stockton, California — $3 million — 1

2005-06-10 — San Francisco, California — $21.2 million — 15

2005-06-10 — Seattle, Washington — $1.7 million — 4

2005-06-29 — Sacramento, California — $35million — 33

2005-06-30 — Boston, Massachusetts — $33.1 million — 257

2005-07-01 — Santa Rosa, California — $7.3million — 8

2005-07-08 — San Francisco, California — $16.0 million — 12

2005-08-05 — Oakland, California — $56 million — 56

2005-08-27 — Seattle, Washington – Benedictines — $2.6 million — 7

2005-09-02 — San Francisco, California — $4 million — 4

2005-10-11 — San Francisco, California — $2.6million — 2

2005-11-01 — Hartford, Connecticut — $22million — 43

2006-01-09 — Covington, Kentucky — $2.5 million — 19

2006-01-09 — Covington, Kentucky — $79 million — 243

2006-02-21 — Dubuque, Iowa — $5 million — 20

2006-03-13 — Los Angeles, California – Franciscans — $28 million — 25

2006-03-16 — Jackson, Mississippi — $5.1 million — 19

2006-04-01 — Seattle, Washington — $1 million — 2

2006-06-30 — Boston, Massachusetts — $6.3 million — 86

2006-08-04 — Anchorage, Alaska and Boston, Massachusetts — $1.4 million — 5

2006-09-01 — Milwaukee, Wisconsin — $16.7 million — 10

2006-10-27 — Los Angeles, California – Carmelites — $10 million — 7

2006-11-30 — Norwich, Connecticut — $1.1 million — 1

2006-12-01 — Los Angeles, California — $60 million — 45

2006-12-16 — Washington, D.C. — $1.3 million — 16

2007-01-05 — Denver, Colorado — $1.5 million — 15

2007-03-27 — Dubuque, Iowa — $2.6 million — 9

2007-03-29 — Fairbanks, Alaska and Oregon Province of Jesuits — $1.9 million — 4

2007-05-10 — Rockford, Illinois — $2.2 million — 2

2007-05-16 — Portland, Oregon — $1.3 million — 2

2007-05-18 — Rockville Centre, New York — $11.4 million — 2

2007-05-29 — Chicago, Illinois — $6.6 million — 15

2007-06-30 — Boston, Massachusetts — $2.1 million — 34

2007-07-14 — Los Angeles, California — $660 million — 508

2007-07-30 — Charleston, South Carolina — $10.3 million — 80

2007-08-30 — Charleston, South Carolina — $1.375 million — 11

2007-09-07 — San Bernardino, California — $15.1 million — 11

2007-09-13 — Santa Rosa, California — $5 million — 10

2007-10-05 — Orange, California — $6.6 million — 4

2007-10-19 — St. Louis, Missouri – Marianists — $160,000 — 1

2007-11-16 — Fairbanks, Alaska – Jesuits — $50 million — 110

2008-01-04 — Spokane, Washington – Jesuits — $4.8 million — 16

2008-01-18 — Wilmington, Delaware — $450,000 — 1

2008-04-10 — Dubuque, Iowa — $4.7 million — 18

2008-05-13 — Burlington, Vermont — $784,000 — 1

2008-05-14 — Los Angeles, California – Salesians — $19.5 million — 17

2008-06-30 — Boston, Massachusetts — $5.4 million — 55

2008-07-01 — Denver, Colorado — $5.5 million — 18

2008-08-12 — Chicago, Illinois — $12.6 million — 16

2008-08-19 — Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri — $10 million — 47

2008-08-27 — Belleville, Illinois — $5 million — 1

2008-08-29 — Providence, Rhode Island — $1.3 million — 4

2008-09-11 — Chicago, Illinois — $2.5 million — 1

2008-09-18 — Chicago, Illinois — $1.7 million — 1

2008-10-30 — Pueblo, Colorado – Marianists — $4.2 million — 23

2008-11 — Seattle, Washington – Christian Bros — $7.2 million — 11

2008-12-03 — Springfield, Massachusetts — $4.5 million — 59

2008-12-17 — Burlington, Vermont — $784,000 — 1

2009-01-29 — Seattle, Wash. – Christian Brothers — $7 million – 13

2009-02-28 — Memphis, Tennessee — $2 million — 1

2009-04-08 — Wilmington, Delaware — $1.5 million — 1

2009-06-03 — Monterey, California — $1.2 million — 1

2009-06-30 — Boston, Massachusetts — $3.6 million — 27

2009-07-21 — Chicago, Illinois — $3.9 million — 6

2009-10-09 — Burlington, Vermont — $784,000 — 1

2009-10-22 — Belleville, Illinois — $1.2 million — 1

2009-10-28 — Savannah, Georgia — $4.2 million — 1

2009-11-05 — Portland, Maine — $200,000 — 1

2010-05-03 — Indianapolis, Indiana — $199,000 — 1

2010-05-13 — Burlington, Vermont — $17.6 million — 26

2010-06-10 — Charlotte, North Carolina and Capuchins — $1.2 million — 1

2010-08-11 — Lansing, Michigan — $250,000 — 1

The sheer number of these heinous abuse cases staggers the mind.  If the Catholic church expects to remain a viable institution in the world, it would seem that those in charge of running the church have no choice but to clean house entirely.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that church leaders need to perform the kind of soul-searching which they endlessly encourage in their parishioners.  The sheer number of abuses can represent nothing more than a systemic problem at the very heart of the Catholic church itself, as well as systemic problems at some of the religious orders which also clearly suffer from something rotten inside their very foundations.

We can pray for those leaders to do better.  But we must also hold them accountable by the law for their moral and professional failures to protect the young from unspeakable abuse at the hands of trusted elders.  

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Houston Protest at Catholic Church

(Sept. 17, 2018)  A Houston protest at a Catholic church was attended by about a dozen people on  Sunday last week.   The Houston Chronicle reported that protesters handed out flyers at Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart downtown.  Their goal was to call attention to the church’s systemic child sex abuse problem.  The protesters were prompted anew following abuse by clergy reports that came from a Pennsylvania grand jury last month.

The protesters called on the Catholic Church to address abuse by clergy that was revealed in the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report.

Protect Our Children!

Churchgoers who left 9 a.m. mass were met with signs that read, “Protect our Children!” and “Speak Up, Speak to Police, Speak Out!”

The protest was led by SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“What we’re asking for is transparency,” said Michael Norris, leader of the Houston chapter.

Related:  Abuse by Clergy Lawsuit

A survivor of  sexual assault by a priest in Louisville, Kentucky, Mr. Norris is also asking for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.  He is asking for the removal of two diocesan priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.

“You will find the same filth that we found in Pennsylvania right here in Houston, Texas,” Mr. Norris told the Houston Chronicle.

David Matthews of Matthews and Associates has represented survivors of sexual abuse by priests.  She said her boss encouraged her and other lawyers at the firm to attend and advocate to raise awareness.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she told the Chronicle.  “I had my first cases back in the late 2000s.  It doesn’t seem like things have changed much since then.  (I) thought things were better. And then you hear one more scandal breaks after another.”

Cardinal DiNardo under fire from Texas’ Catholic Victims

In a Texas Catholic Herald article dated Sept. 11, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston Daniel Cardinal DiNardo wrote that he shares the anger and rage felt by survivors.  He asked for prayers to bring accountability to the church. He admitted failure, writing, “I realize in spite of the progress made in 2002 that we, the bishops of the United States, have failed you,” he said. “We can and must do better.”

But recent charges against a priest in Cardinal DiNardo’s jurisdiction suggest that he himself also may have failed to protect parishioners from an accused pedophile priest.

Houston Protest at Catholic Church

Cardinal DiNardo, who is leading a delegation to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis to discuss the church’s pedophile abuse crisis, has been accused by two Texans of not doing enough to stop a Houston-area priest who was arrested last week on sexual abuse charges.

Manuel LaRosa-Lopez was arrested last week by Conroe police.  He stands accused of fondling two people when they were underage teenagers while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. He is charged with four counts of indecency with a child. Each count carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

Mr. LaRosa-Lopez is the current pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond, and also the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for Hispanics.

One of the alleged victims was flown by the church from the West Coast to Houston to meet with Cardinal DiNardo and the victims’ assistance coordinator for the archdiocese. They met at the archdiocese on the afternoon of Aug. 10, 2018.

The alleged victim shared with the Associated Press a copy of the notes he took.

Cardinal seemed Dismissive

“Cardinal seemed dismissive of situation,” the alleged victim’s notes read.  He also wrote down what he says is a quote from DiNardo: “You should have told us sooner.”

“It was a dismissive tone,” he recalled. “In the back of my head, I was thinking about his comment. I was so mad afterward.”

Both said they had believed their cases were too old to prosecute under statute of limitations laws. But in 2007, the Texas Legislature removed the statute of limitations for indecency with a child cases.  Montgomery County prosecutors say that change means their cases remain eligible to be prosecuted now.

SNAP has called for the Texas attorney general to investigate the Houston archdiocese and others for whether they covered up sexual abuse in their ranks.

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Texas Priest faces Sexual Abuse Charges

(Sept. 12, 2018)  A Texas priest faces sexual abuse charges in Montgomery County.   Conroe police say the alleged sex crimes with children happened over several years’ time, from the early 1990’s to the early 2000’s.

The priest was a former employee of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.  The Conroe Police Department reported that he has been charged with four counts of indecency with a child. The police say they took two separate criminal reports which named Manuel La Rosa-Lopez as a person who victimized children.

Houston-Area Priest

While Montgomery police identified the accused man as an employee of the church, multiple online profiles and church websites identify Mr. La Rosa-Lopez as a priest who still works in the Houston area.  Mr. La Rosa-Lopez turned himself in to the Montgomery County Jail on Sept. 11, 2018.

Cardinal DiNardo relocated Priest after accusations

The Associated Press reported this afternoon that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has been accused by two people of not doing enough to stop Father La Rosa-Lopez from abusing children.

Both people told the AP they met with Cardinal DiNardo, one in August 2018, the other several years ago.  One of them said she was promised that Mr. La Rosa-Lopez would be removed from any contact with children.  She later discovered that the priest remained in active ministry at another parish 70 miles away.

The Archdiocese released the following statement today:

In 2001, a then-16 year old girl and her family notified this Archdiocese that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez had kissed and touched her inappropriately when he was assigned as Parochial Vicar at Sacred Heart in Conroe. We immediately referred this information to Children’s Protective Services for further investigation.

Father La Rosa-Lopez denied touching the girl inappropriately, and the girl’s family decided not to pursue the matter, relocating out of the country that same year. After an internal review, including presentation of the above allegations to the newly founded Archdiocesan Review Board in 2003, Father La Rosa-Lopez was permitted to return to parish ministry in 2004.

Following her return to the U.S., the Archdiocese, in accordance with our commitment to provide pastoral outreach, provided the young woman with counseling services for a period of time, until she decided to discontinue her therapy.

For the last 17 years, no other allegations of inappropriate conduct involving minors were presented against Father La Rosa-Lopez until 2018. During an interview in Houston on August 10, 2018, a 36 year old man formally presented an allegation to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston stating that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused him from 1998 through 2001, when he was a high school student and Father La Rosa-Lopez was still assigned at Sacred Heart in Conroe.

The Archdiocese immediately reported this allegation to Children’s Protective Services as well. Father La Rosa-Lopez has denied these allegations of sexual abuse. . .  

. . . The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recognizes it clearly has both a legal and a moral obligation to address any incidence of abuse — sexual or otherwise — to God’s children.

Such behavior simply will not be tolerated. To anyone affected by any form of abuse by anyone who represents the Church, the Archdiocese deeply regrets such a fundamental violation of trust, and commits itself to eliminating such unacceptable actions.

States Rolling Back Statutes to Allow Victims Leeway

Many states are beginning to roll back statutes of limitations to allow victims of sexual abuse more time in which to file a claim.  In many states, people who allege they were victimized as children by clergy or others have only until they turn 30 to file a lawsuit against their perpetrator(s).  Some states allow lawsuits to proceed against child sex abuse predators until the victim reaches 50.  But it is not unusual for a sexually abused person to come forward after age 30 or even after age 50.  Consequently, several states – such as Minnesota and others — have passed legislation allowing victims a new 3-year grace period of time in which to file a lawsuit against their alleged perpetrator(s).  In those states, a person can file a sexual abuse lawsuit at any age, in they do so in the newly granted grace period.

Pennsylvania state is considering such a move to grant long-reticent victims  a reprieve from their private suffering.  The state was rocked by a Catholic church scandal last month after a grand jury determined that more than 300 Catholic priests in one Philly-area parish had sexually abused more than 1,000 children, and quite possibly thousands more.

Abuse by Clergy Lawsuit

Our law firm is investigating priest abuse lawsuits in Texas, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.  If you or a loved one was abused by a Catholic priest or other clergy, contact us for a free, confidential consultation regarding an abuse by clergy lawsuit.

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Catholic Church pays $1 Million to settle Sex Abuse Claims

(August 6, 2018)  AP Million to settle Sex Abuse Claims">reported last month that a Roman Catholic order has agreed to pay $1 million to eight people who say they were sexually abused by two Massachusetts priests.  The victims’ attorney said the sex-abuse claims were brought to the attention of the Augustinians about a year ago, and the parties reached an out-of-court settlement during mediation.

En Español:  La iglesia catolica paga 1 millon para transar las demandas de abuso sexual

The Boston Globe reported that five men and three women were allegedly abused by the Revs. John Gallagher and Robert Turnbull in the 1970s and early 1980s, when the victims were 9 to 12 years old. Both the accused priests have since died.

Related:  Abuse by Clergy Lawsuit

A Cry for Help Ignored

One of the victims wrote about her abuse to the late Cardinal Bernard Law, said her attorney, Mitch Garabedian.  He said that letter proved the former archbishop of Boston knew of sexual abuse by priests.  Cardinal Law, who died last year, was also at the center of a sex abuse scandal while he reigned, and he is also part of the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on runaway sex abuse by clergy.

The president of Road to Recovery Inc., Robert Hoatson, made the announcement regarding the  settlement outside St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Boston.  Mr. Hoatson, a priest sex-abuse survivor himself, said the settlement avoided bringing a lawsuit against the Augustinians. His nonprofit charity in New Jersey assists sexual abuse victims and encourages them to come forward with their stories.

Mr. Garabedian said three of his clients, now adult women, were abused by a former parish priest who also performed as a coach at St. Mary’s in Lawrence between 1973 and 1976.  Father Gallagher was a swim coach and basketball coach for CYO.  He abused young girls on the two teams in the rectory, and also on field trips, including one to Saratoga, New York.

Mr. Garabedian said five other people, now adult males, were abused by a priest who was also a teacher and an athletic equipment manager when the victims (then 13-14) attended Austin Preparatory School in Reading between 1977 and 1981.

“He would sexually abuse my clients (fondling and some digital penetration) at the Northmeadow Health & Racquet Club in Tewksbury, in the showers and in the swimming pool,” said Mr. Garabedian.  “He would also sexually abuse them in a room next to his classroom at Austin Prep.

He found it difficult to believe Father Turnbull’s supervisors did not know he was sexually abusing children, because rumors swirled about the priest among students.

“His supervisors turned their backs on innocent children,” said Mr. Garabedian.

Woman:  “This pain is still with me. . . ”

Mr. Hoatson said that one of Father Gallagher’s victims was sexually abused when she was attending fourth, fifth and sixth grade at the Catholic Inter-Parochial schools in Lawrence. Those schools were St. Mary, St. Lawrence and Holy Rosary. The woman gave details in the letter she wrote to Cardinal Law:  “Typically, Father Gallagher would have me and my friends with him for some reason: to paint the gym, to count out the money from collections, because he was our coach. . .  While the rest of the girls would be doing the work, he would call one of us to him.”

“As he sat facing the girls working, he would tell me to climb on his lap. This way I could not see the other girls. He would wrap my legs around him so that I was straddling him. He would push me very close to him. (and) would insist that I hug him tightly and kiss him.  (When) he finished with me, he would release me and call up another girl and repeat his act on her.”

Mr. Hoatson said the woman told Cardinal Law that it was her desire to see Father Gallagher punished for the pain he caused her.  “This pain is still with me and will be a part of my being forever,” wrote the woman in her letter.

Cardinal Law should have warned parishioners and the public about FatherGallagher, but instead he “participated in the coverup,” Mr. Garabedian said.

Catholic Church pays $1 Million to settle Sexual Abuse Claims

Instead of being disciplined and dismissed, predator priests such as Father Gallagher were shuffled from one parish to another, which is a claim that was also made by the recent Pennsylvania grand jury, which found that 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children.

“The cardinal or archdiocese had an obligation to inquire as to why these individuals were transferred into the Archdiocese of Boston,” said Mr. Garabedian.  The church’s failure to have the pedophile predators screened, and to be forthcoming about their possible history of sexual abuse, he said, “is another indication of  how the Catholic Archdiocese has failed miserably to protect children.”

5,000+ Victims of Abuse by Clergy

Mr. Hoatson said that since forming in 2003, his organization has provided a range of support services to more than 5,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families.

“I attend these public events as an advocate and to encourage other victims to come to me,” said Mr. Hoatson.   He knows the territory.   He was a victim of clergy sexual abuse himself as a child, and he later served as a Catholic priest for 14 years.

“We’ll do anything to help a victim get on the road to recovery,”  he said.

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Pennsylvania may change Priest Abuse Law

(Sept. 3, 2018)  Due to a grand jury report released last month which detailed sex abuse by hundreds of priests, Pennsylvania may change its law on the statutes of limitations for filing Pennsylvania priest abuse lawsuits.

En Español:  Pensilvania podría cambiar la Ley del Abuso Sexual de parte de los Sacerdotes

State lawmakers will soon vote on whether to eliminate Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for clergy sex abuse lawsuits, and whether to lengthen the time a victim has to file such a lawsuit.  Several other states — like Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Minnesota — have already restored victims’ expired rights to file civil lawsuits.

Even if such new law were passed by the Pennsylvania legislature, whether or not an alleged victim could file a sex abuse lawsuit would depend on several factors.  The grand jury lamented the fact that many of the 1,000 priest-abuse victims it estimated could not seek justice due to the passing of the statutes of limitations.  And there were likely thousands more victims, said the jury.

Current Pennsylvania Law fails Victims

Current Pennsylvania law allows child victims of sexual crimes to pursue criminal charges against their abusers until the victims reach age 50.  Victims can file civil lawsuits only until they reach age 30.  That law fails many people who, through shame and other personal reasons, don’t readily reach a point where they are ready to sue their perpetrators.  Many of the victims of pedophile priest George Epoch, for example, didn’t sue the church until the man was dead, decades after he had abused them.

A bill before the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives would eliminate the time limit for prosecutions and move the lawsuit ceiling to age 50.  A Pennsylvania state lawmaker who survived abuse himself also wants to give a temporary grace period to victims whose time limit to sue has already passed.

Similar bills have sat unsupported in the legislature in recent years, but House Majority Leader Dave Reed said last week that he wants to schedule this one for a vote in fall 2018.  Mr. Reed said in a web site statement:  “The actions revealed through the grand jury report are heinous and shameful.  (With) the timeliness of this report and its findings, the statute of limitations bill (is) primed for discussion in the House.”

The bill (SB 261) has sat in the House since last year after the Senate passed it unanimously.

Grand jury says lift prosecution limits

The grand jury report said last month that internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania showed that more than 300 “predator priests” were credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.

Pennsylvania may change Priest Abuse Lawsuit Law

The grand jury recommended the state eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecutions.  Members noted that “no piece of legislation can predict the point at which a victim of child sex abuse will find the strength to come forward.”

As it now stands, people for whom a statute of limitations has expired before any new law extends the window are generally out of luck.

A U.S. Supreme Court precedent constricts any extension of  criminal liability after a case’s statute limit expires, said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and CEO of think tank focused on ending child abuse and neglect Child USA.  That means that even if the Pennsylvania bill passed, a child victim age 51 or older when it became law would not be able to seek criminal charges.

Pennsylvania limits for prosecuting child sex abuse cases used to be five years for prosecution and two years for civil suits.  They increased in the 1990s, and again in the 2000s, eventually settling on 50 and 30.

The grand jury wrote that even those grace-period changes prevent many of the hundreds of victims detailed in the report from suing.

Lawmaker who survived abuse wants broader limits

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi has publicly shared his own personal account of being abused by a Catholic priest as an eighth-grader.

Mr. Rozzi wants to amend the Senate bill to provide a two-year window which would start whenever the new law would take effect.  In that time, any child sex abuse victim could sue an abuser, no matter how long ago the crime occurred.

The retroactive window for civil lawsuits “is the only avenue for these victims who are in the grand jury report” to get justice, said Mr. Rozzi to reporters.

In 2016, Mr. Rozzi gave the Pennsylvania House an emotional account of his rape by a priest in a rectory shower when he was 13 years old.  That story helped trigger the bill which the House unanimously passed, but which the Senate then defeated. The grand jury report says Graff died in a Texas jail in November 2002 while awaiting trial on suspicion of sexually abusing a boy.

Mr. Rozzi first told his story in 2009 after a second childhood friend of his killed himself. Both friends had also been abused by Graff, said Rozzi, a democrat.   He believes he has support in the House for his measure this year, but both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Mr. Rossi vowed: “Expect that sometime in September, we will move a bill out of the House that has a retroactive window” for civil lawsuits.

Grand jury also recommends retroactive civil window

The grand jury also recommended a two-year civil lawsuit window to allow child victims whose statutes of limitations have expired to sue, the same measure which Mr. Rozzi proposes.

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