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Is it too Late to File a Lawsuit Against a Church or Priest for Sexual Abuse?

For more than 40 years now, countless cases have come to light involving serious allegations of sexual abuse occurring in Catholic churches. Over the years, more and more priests have been exposed as being involved in sexual abuse of young members of numerous parishes. What’s even more troubling is the fact that for most of the past 40 years, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston knew that sexual abuse was occurring. In one case, the Church was aware of well over 100 complaints about just one priest, but didn’t act on those. Instead, that priest was moved from one church to the next, while the complaints against him became more and more prevalent. One study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that since the early 1990’s, sexual abuse in the Catholic church has affected almost all diocese and three out of every 5 religious communities. That same study found that in the period between 1950 and 2002, over 10,000 allegations of sexual abuse were made against those in the Catholic Church. The effects of the sexual abuse on the victims are often severe. Many victims feel shame, guilt, and dysfunction in both their emotional endeavors and social situations. While nothing can undo the painful abuse that has occurred, victims can still file a lawsuit against priests and the Church in order to recover damages for the abuse.

While many might worry that a lawsuit against a priest or the Catholic Church might not be allowed because the First Amendment protects churches from government intrusion of many sorts, this simply isn’t true when it comes to sexual abuse lawsuits. The courts allow for a plaintiff who was a victim of sexual abuse to bring a claim against the church. Claims against the Church can be brought under different theories, all of which are covered under negligence. These theories encompass the idea that even though the Church knew of the alleged abuse, it continued to negligently hire and maintain those priests that had been accused.

Another obstacle of bringing a claim against a priest or church is the statute of limitations. Both states and the federal government have created statute of limitations, or time limits for filing civil claims, in many areas of law. While most statutes of limitations are logical, for reasons such as bringing finality to claims and prevent injustice, in cases of sexual abuse this isn’t always the case. In fact, Massachusetts enacted a law changing the statute of limitation from six years to three years from the point that the victim discovered that the sexual abuse caused him or her emotional or psychological harm. This more flexible standard was enacted in order to accommodate those with repressed memories. All in all, it is clear that the legislature wished to make laws that would allow for those victims of sexual abuse to file claims, even if the abuse happened years earlier.

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, contacting a lawyer could help you recover for your emotional and psychological injuries. At Altman & Altman, LLP, our attorneys have over 40 years of experience, and understand that sexual abuse is a sensitive, and often times very painful subject to talk about. We will strive to make you and your family feel comfortable, and to help you recover for your injuries. Please contact us to schedule a free of charge initial consultation with a member of our legal team.

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