Throughout California, including in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego, the stories of hundreds of victims (particularly male victims) who have suffered years of abuse at the hands of pedophile priests and predatory clergy members have finally come to light.
It has been more than a decade since the world officially found out about longtime and ongoing abuse, mostly of minors, by Catholic clergy members. The story was largely publicized through a series of articles written in the Boston Globe in 2002. Through some good, old-fashioned investigative journalism, reporters for the publication found out that not only had multiple clergy been abusing parishioners in and around Boston for years, but also that church officials at multiple levels of authority had known about it. Most shocking is that rather than dismissing or defrocking the accused, most had simply been reshuffled to other parishes where they had continued their patterns of predatory and abusive behavior.
Journalists for the publication had found that even in the rare instances where the abuse had been reported to local law enforcement authorities, victims were silenced, charges were never filed, and the incidents were carefully swept under the rug in order to keep from tarnishing the authority and/or reputation of the Catholic Church. Since this series of articles first appeared, multiple cities around the United States and later, around the world, started sending law enforcement agents and investigators into Catholic churches to follow up on more and more reports of abuse by clergy members. In many cases, the accusations of abuse were decades old and coming from men and women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who reported having been abused by priests as children. As more stories emerged from the dark, previously undiscovered and widespread incidents of abuse were finally uncovered, to finally be seen and heard the world. An ever increasing number of survivors continue to share stories of their own experiences of abuse at the hands of then-highly respected priests and clergymen.
As years have gone by, the sheer numbers of men and women who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy members have been staggering. A report released by John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York found that there had been nearly 11,000 accusations of abuse that had been committed between 1950 and 2002, when the story first exploded on the pages of the Boston Globe. Commissioned by the National Review Board, which had been created by the United States Conference of Bishops, the study found 6,700 unique accusations of abuse against 4,392 individual clergymen. The study found that the problem of clergy abuse of children was so widespread that it affected 95% of Catholic dioceses in the country and 60% of religious communities. According to the study, the number of instances of abuse first increased throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, peaked in the 1970’s, and then somewhat declined.
During those decades (50’s, 60’s, 70’s), just over 1,000 instances of abuse were reported to local law enforcement agencies, resulting in only 384 clerics being criminally charged. Of those 384 clergy members criminally charged, 252 were convicted and only 100 were sentenced to time in prison. The victims of abuse were often female, but overwhelmingly, victims tended to be male and nearly all minors. Following the pattern of convicted child molesters outside of the church, these abusers frequently groomed their victims with kind words, attention, and a variety of gifts before starting the abuse against their victims. In most cases, the cleric was very friendly with the victim’s family and well-respected by their respective communities.
Church officials have been widely criticized for not reporting known instances of abuse to local law enforcement officials, as well as for letting many of the accused continue to work with children after having had them moved to new parishes. According to the John Jay study, 40% of the clergymen accused of sexual abuse had undergone psychological counseling before reassignment rather than being dismissed from ministry. More than 3,000 clergymen with accusations of abuse against them were unable to be questioned further or criminally charged because they were deceased by the time of the study.
The John Jay study only covers accusations and activity from 1950 to 2002, but accusations of abuse at the hands of clergymen continue to pour into local law enforcement offices. Accordingly, support groups for survivors have continued to grow in membership numbers. Public outrage among the American people, directed at the Catholic Church, and its cover ups and silencing of victims over the years has also increased exponentially. In response, church bishops have started taking steps to identify abuse, including training on spotting potential abuse and how to properly deal with allegations of abuse. Laws in many places around the country now make it mandatory for church officials to report allegations of abuse to local law enforcement for further investigation. The Catholic Church has also started keeping tallies of reports of sexual abuse by clergy and other church-related personnel. For example, an audit covering 2018 and 2019 revealed 4,434 allegations of sexual abuse. The Catholic Church also reportedly paid out $281.6 million for costs related to litigation, as well as compensation to victims of abuse in 2018 and 2019 alone.
California laws already had ways to deal with and punish those accused of sexual abuse, but traditionally the statute of limitations would have barred many abuse victims from seeking justice since the abuse may have happened decades ago. In 2019, however, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 218, marking a major victory for abuse survivors and their ability to seek justice. Taking effect in January of 2020, AB 218 raised the age limit for survivors of abuse to bring legal action against their clergy or other church-affiliated abuser. For people who have been abused in childhood, this update to the law adds extra time onto the window of time for victims to seek justice.
This important change in the law allows those previously without a means of redress the ability to now seek justice. If you were abused by a priest or church-affiliated official as a child, you no longer have to suffer in silence with no hope of justice or accountability. For the many who have been abused abuse, the changes in the law have made it so that the Catholic Church is no longer able to silence these victims and sweep the problem under the rug. Thousands of survivors of abuse have successfully sought justice and many have been awarded compensation. The laws in California have adjusted to better address the ever-widening scope of this problem, so if you are ready to seek justice, our experienced San Francisco clergy abuse attorneys are here to help.
Mary Alexander & Associates has been successfully fighting for its clients for years. Our attorneys have handled various child sexual abuse cases, winning millions in verdicts and settlements for our clients. These include a $13 million judgment for a child molested by a sports coach, a $2.5 million settlement for a teenager abused by a schoolteacher, and a $1.1 million settlement for an elementary school child abused by a clergy member.