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Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

Priests of the Roman Catholic Church have been among the most notorious perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse. Such abuse has occurred over decades, and has been covered up by Church leaders. Recently, clergy abuse lawsuits filed against Roman Catholic dioceses have revealed that such cover-ups were part of official Church policy, and facilitated by high-ranking officials at the Vatican.

If you or a loved were subjected to this treatment by priests, bishops and other officials with the Roman Catholic Church, please know that you are not alone. Our clergy sexual abuse lawyers can help you hold those responsible for your suffering accountable. We promise to treat your clergy sexual abuse case with the respect and compassion you deserve.

Scope of the Abuse

In 2004, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report on the scope of priest sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church that was commissioned by the US Bishops National Review Board. The John Jay report found that about 4 percent of US priests ministering from 1950 to 2002 were accused of sex abuse with a minor. The study said that 4,392 clergymen-almost all priests-were accused of abusing 10,667 people, with 75 percent of the incidents taking place between 1960 and 1984. For the entire 52-year period "the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95 percent of the dioceses and approximately 60 percent of religious communities," said the study.

In the past couple of decades, the U.S. Catholic community has been rocked by sensational scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. One of the worst on record occurred in the Boston Archdiocese. One priest, John J. Geoghan, molested hundreds of young Catholic school boys for over 20 years before he was convicted on criminal charges. For much of that time, the leaders of the Boston Archdiocese knew of Geoghan's appalling conduct, yet did little to stop him. To cover up Geoghan's conduct, church leaders moved him from parish to parish, maneuvers that only allowed the abuse to continue.

In Wisconsin, one priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, is alleged to have sexually abused some 200 boys who were students at the St. John’s School for the Deaf. According to media reports, countless officials failed to pursue legal charges against the abusive priest. It wasn't until 1996 that Wisconsin bishops wrote to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - then head of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and now Pope Benedict XVI - asking that they be allowed to conduct a church trial on the allegations against Murphy. According to a New York Times investigation, Murphy, then 75, also wrote Ratzinger begging to be allowed to live his remaining days as a priest. Permission for the trial was ultimately refused, and though Ratzinger did not respond, a decision by his office quoted Murphy’s reasoning when they decided not to kick him out of the priesthood.

The clergy sexual abuse scandal has resulted in massive settlements and rulings in favor of abuse victims. In 2007, the Los Angeles Archdiocese settled with 500 victims of clergy sexual abuse. The $660 million settlement was the largest church settlement of sexual abuse lawsuits to date. In 2002, the Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay a total of $157 million to 983 claimants in several different settlement agreements. The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., agreed to pay $129 million to 315 claimants; the Diocese of Orange, Calif., agreed to pay $100 million to 90 claimants, and the Diocese of Covington, Ky., settled with 350 claimants for $85 million. Other cases are pending around the country, including in the Archdiocese of New York.

Church Reaction to Abuse

The Roman Catholic abuse scandal is not limited to the United States. In recent years, similar scandals have erupted in Ireland, Germany, and other parts of Europe. It has also become apparent that for decades, the Vatican’s official policy on clergy sexual abuse was to keep it quiet. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Vatican issued a secret document in 1962, "Crimen Sollicitatiois" ("The Crime of Solicitation"), spelling out this policy. According to the BBC report: "The document recommended that rather than reporting sexual abuse to the relevant legal authorities, bishops should encourage the victim, witnesses and perpetrator not to talk about it. And, to keep victims quiet, it threatened that if they repeat the allegations they would be excommunicated."

"Crimen Sollicitatiois" was quietly replaced in 2001 when Cardinal Ratzinger drafted a new set of secret instructions for handling priest sex crimes.

Even now, leader of the Roman Catholic Church continue to play down the extent of sexual abuse by its priests. When the abuse is reported in the media, or by victims' advocates, Church officials have taken a defensive stance, and characterized the reporting as "attacks" or "smear campaigns" by anti-Catholic forces.

Legal Help for Victims of Abusive Roman Catholic Priests

Our clergy sexual abuse lawyers believe that no one should ever have to suffer because of this crime.  If you or someone you know were a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest, you deserve to be compensated for your injuries.  Please fill out our online form, or call 1-800-LAW-INFO (1-800-529-4636) to discuss your case with one of our compassionate and experienced clergy sexual abuse lawyers.


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