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Catholic Sex Abuse Claims Triple in 2019, Report Reveals

Catholic Sex Abuse Claims Triple in 2019, Report Reveals | Clergy Abuse Lawyers

Clergy Sex Abuse Claims Will Continue to Surge Due to Extended “Lookback” Windows, Experts Say

From July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, more than 4,200 adults and 37 minors filed clergy sex abuse claims against the Roman Catholic Church. These 4,434 claims represent a massive surge in the filings against the Church when compared to previous years. It’s more than 3 times the number of claims brought against the Church from July 2017 to June 2018—and more than 6 times the number of claims filed the year before that.

As stunning as that exponential growth is, this wave of claims has likely not even peaked, experts say. In fact, many expect the rapid growth to continue through 2020 and beyond, and some anticipate the payouts could ultimately exceed $4 billion. 

Why Have Clergy Sex Abuse Claims Been on the Rise in Recent Years?

The latest statistics on Catholic priest sex abuse cases come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a report entitled, 2019 Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Issued in June 2020, this is the 17th annual edition of the report, which details the status of allegations made against the Church, along with the efforts the Church has made over the past year to prevent future abuse.

According to this report, the increases in clergy sex abuse claims have been largely the result of new complaints filed during ongoing trials and:

  • The creation of victims compensation programs: In some dioceses, settlement funds have been established. These offer an alternative to court, letting survivors to come forward to seek financial recovery while maintaining some confidentiality.

    A couple of examples include the Independent Victim Compensation Program (IVCP) in New Jersey and the Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program (ISRP) in Erie, PA. Notably, the ISRP announced that it was suspending payment of claims in March 2020 due to COVID-19.
  • Some dioceses filing for bankruptcy: The crushing pressure of increasing clergy sex abuse claims has led some dioceses to file for bankruptcy. As part of these cases, the dioceses are generally required to issue notices about deadlines for filing claims against the bankruptcy estate (in these cases, survivors’ claims are viewed as “creditor” claims, with deadlines driven by the bankruptcy courts).

    More than 20 dioceses across the U.S. have filed for bankruptcy, including the San Diego Diocese (CA), the Milwaukee Archdiocese (WI), the New Ulm Diocese (MN), the Rochester Diocese (NY), the San Juan Archdiocese (Puerto Rico), and the New Orleans Archdiocese (LA).

Why Will Clergy Sex Abuse Claims Continue to Rise in the Coming Year(s)?

Many states have passed laws to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. In these states, the laws create a “lookback” window, lifting restrictions on claim deadlines that had previously required survivors to file by a certain age—often before the age of 30.

With lookback windows:

  • It doesn’t matter how many decades have passed since the abuse occurred.
  • Survivors have the right to file claims, as long as they file before the lookback period expires.

The following table shows lookback windows for clergy sex abuse claims by location, along with the deadlines for filing claims by location.

State or LocationLookback PeriodFiling Deadline
Arizona19 monthsDec. 2020
California3 yearsJan. 2023
New Jersey2 yearsDec. 2021
North Carolina2 yearsJan. 2022
VermontNo deadline
Washington, D.C.2 yearsMay 2021

With lookback windows coming to a close in some places, many predict an even bigger surge in clergy sex abuse claims filed against the Church through 2020 and beyond.

What Compensation Has Been Paid for Clergy Sex Abuse Claims?

Compensation for resolved Catholic sex abuse claims has vary widely, according to several factors, like (but not limited to):

  • Whether the cases went to trial
  • Whether the claims were filed through funds or bankruptcy cases
  • The alleged nature of the abuse and the age of the victim at the time of the abuse
  • The available evidence to corroborate the allegations

Here’s a look at some of the various payouts for clergy sex abuse claims over the years, based on where claims were filed and how they were resolved:

  • $200,000: Average payout from the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), the victim compensation fund set up in New York in 2016
  • $288,168: Average settlement paid via bankruptcy cases, according to a study from Penn State
  • $1.3 million: Average payout for victims who were part of the $660 million clergy sex abuse settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007
  • $1.9 million: A settlement reached in Jan. 2020 between the Los Angeles Diocese and a plaintiff who filed his clergy sex abuse claim in 2018

While billions have been paid out to date, that could be just the tip of the iceberg given all of the pending claims—and the fact that these claims are expected to increase in the coming years.

Can I File a Clergy Sex Abuse Claim?

No matter how long ago the abuse may have occurred, it may not be too late to file a claim. Now’s the time to find out more about your rights and take your first step in joining the many who are standing up to the Church.