Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyers In Pennsylvania
Most Pennsylvanians will be familiar with at least some of the hundreds of stories of Catholic priests committing sexual abuse over many decades.
The state has been at the epicenter of this problem in the U.S. and it has horrified locals and many people around the country.
In recent years, sexual abuse victims have increasingly come forward to report cases involving the Catholic clergy. The extent of the problem has surprised many.
While many perpetrators have gotten away with their crimes, the prosecution of abusers brings a small measure of justice to the victims, regardless of how long ago it occurred.
UPDATE: HB 963 to extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse
- Pennsylvania Statute of Limitation Update 12/15/2020
If you are the victim of catholic clergy abuse in Pennsylvania, the experienced team of sexual abuse lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote can help you take the steps towards justice and claiming the compensation you are entitled to.
From the initial consultation conducted in the strictest confidence, we are committed to helping you move on with your life in the knowledge that the perpetrators at least won’t be able to harm anyone else.
Catholic Sexual Abuse In Pennsylvania Churches
While Catholic clergy sexual abuse takes many forms, it is the abuse of minors by priests, bishops, and deacons that is of the greatest concern.
Sexual abuse of any kind is intolerable but when it happens to children whose wellbeing is entrusted to the care of the Church, it is even worse.
It can range from unwanted petting, touching or fondling through to rape. The victims not only have to confront the physical violation but many carry the mental scars through their adult lives, leading to behavioral problems, relationship issues, and health challenges.
With such far-reaching consequences, one might have thought that the Catholic Church would do everything possible to help victims. Unfortunately, the reverse is true in many instances.
Cover Ups Of Sexual Abuse In The Church
Just as alarming as the reports of sexual abuse in the Church is the revelation about how many instances were covered up.
That the Church could protect the perpetrators rather than the victims is difficult to comprehend for most families in Pennsylvania.
Many stories highlight how abuse from clergy members was known by the institution but not acted upon. Effectively, this allowed abusers to continue their crimes for years.
How Was The Institutional Abuse Covered Up?
In covering up clergy abuse, the Catholic Church sought to protect its reputation. An effective system was in place to “bury” evidence of the abuse and retain the good name of the Church in the community.
One of the most common methods used was to simply move alleged offenders to other parishes or dioceses. The offending priest was either moved within the same state or, more often, interstate or even overseas.
In days gone by, there were no online records, social media or mass communication so any reports of abuse remained local – and did not follow the priest to their new location. This allowed abusive clergymen to continue their crimes in the new parish or diocese.
A Church-sponsored report found that, in 2002-2003 alone, at least 150 Catholic priests were removed to another diocese or “retired” after facing credible allegations of sexual abuse. The actual number of cases is likely to be considerably higher.
A strategy of “silence” appears to have been the main driver of the Church’s actions. The same strategy is used in other institutions accused of covering up sexual abuse, like educational institutions, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Jewish synagogue and more.
Another strategy used was to punish whistleblowers, who were sometimes transferred for reporting abuse.
In failing to address the abuse problem and in protecting the reputation of the Church above all else, there is little doubt that many victims suffered unnecessarily at the hands of known abusers.
How Widespread Is Sexual Abuse In The Catholic Church?
Many Americans would have been familiar with isolated stories of abuse in the Church. What has shocked many is how widespread the abuse has proven to be.
It was estimated in a 1993 report by Fr. Andrew Greeley that there may be up to 100,000 victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. alone.
CNN reported that more than 8,600 abuse survivors have received over $3.8 billion in restitution from the Catholic Church. While this number shocked many, it is likely to only scratch the surface. Many more undocumented victims are yet to come forward.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender website, only about 30 percent of all sexual assault cases are reported.
- 5,679 people alleging sexual abuse by Catholic clergy had reached settlements by 2009 – this has increased since but still only represents a fraction of the allegations (Source: bishop-accountability.org)
- Allegations of clergy abuse exist in 161 of 177 Catholic dioceses in the U.S. and every area of the country is affected (Source: The New York Times)
How Was Catholic Clergy Abuse Uncovered?
While rumors and hearsay about Catholic clergy abuse persisted for decades, the problem was first brought to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s.
After that, it seemed to die down but the topic came to the fore again recently, despite the Catholic Church’s efforts to cover up reports of sexual abuse among its clergy.
The media played a big role in uncovering the problem in recent years. The Boston Globe was particularly instrumental when it won a court case that made public any Church documents used in civil lawsuits filed against the Church.
That is when the true extent of the Catholic clergy abuse problem came to light and, due to the courage of the many victims across the country, Pennsylvania has seen a large share of successful cases.
What Can You Do As A Victim Of Clergy Sexual Abuse In Pennsylvania?
Following a grand jury report in 2018, Pennsylvania followed many states in the U.S. by changing its sexual abuse laws to make it easier for victims to file claims against their abusers and to hold their institutions responsible.
One of the major changes was to time limits that previously prevented prosecutors from filing charges against abusers.
Other changes were to laws that prevented victims from talking to investigators and increased penalties for people who are required to report suspected abuse but fail to do so.
It is no longer too late to come forward with your claim of sexual abuse even if it was many years ago.
Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations Update
In 2019, the statute of limitations for bringing a sexual abuse case in Pennsylvania was changed from age 30 to age 55.
The law change was not retroactive, so it still excludes some victims from bringing claims.
If you were sexually abused in Pennsylvania and are seeking to pursue a civil case against the church (or any other organization that you believe is responsible for your abuse) you must do so before you turn 55 years old.
Many victims in cases that were time-barred before 2019 remain time-barred by the new legislation.
Two bills are currently in play in the PA legislature, HB2 which would open a 2-year revival window for expired claims of sexual abuse of minors. It would also retroactively remove sovereign and government immunity for civil child sex abuse claims. SB1, which includes a proposal to amend Section 11, Article 1 of the PA Constitution to provide a 2-year window for individuals to revive claims of childhood sexual assault that were/are barred by the statute of limitations, damage caps, government immunity or sovereign immunity. However, included in SB1 are other constitutional amendments that have nothing to do with child sexual assault and rather deal with election issues and governmental authority. There are concerns that SB1 as written is not constitutional to pass as it violates single subject rules. PA Single Subject Rule states that no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title, except a general appropriation bill or a bill codifying or compiling the law or a part thereof.
There is unfortunately disagreement within the PA Senate and House as to which bill should be the vehicle and therefore passage is once again facing an uphill battle. This leaves survivors in Pennsylvania once again in legal limbo with no recourse to access justice.
The lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote and our clients have been some of the main advocates of this change.
We are hopeful the legislature will do the right thing and pass HB1 and allow the Pennsylvania voters to give Victims of historic sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, the justice they deserve.
What Compensation Can Victims Claim For Clergy Sexual Abuse In Pennsylvania?
The sexual abuse attorneys at Andreozzi & Foote are here to help Pennsylvania victims get restitution for past crimes against them.
Coming forward to seek justice for clergy abuse can help you finally “turn the page” and hold the individual and the institution accountable for their actions – thereby preventing future abuse to others.
Compensation for the pain and suffering caused may include:
- Costs of counseling and mental or physical therapy
- Costs of medical care
- Loss of ability to earn a living
- Pain and suffering
If you would like the lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote to evaluate your case, please call 1 (866)-694-2307 for a free consultation.
All the information you provide will be treated confidentially, including your identity.