In church sex abuse and assault cases such as one involving a priest, multiple parties may be liable and ultimately ordered to pay financial compensation to the victim. Church organizations, dioceses and other private entities may be liable in addition to the perpetrator.
There are many potential theories which may be advanced against the defendants. Three of the most common theories include claims of negligent/intentional conduct, pattern of wrongful conduct and misrepresentation. Click here to learn about negligent and intentional conduct claims. See below for a discussion of pattern of behavior and misrepresentation claims.
Pattern of Wrongful Conduct
Church organizations are just like other types of business entities when it comes to dealing with sex abuse or sex assault. Self-preservation is a strong instinct, even for higher-ups within a church, and often leads to cover-ups and other such conduct. Over time, a pattern of wrongful conduct may emerge, which can involve any one or more of the following:
- suppressing reports of victims,
- shielding perpetrators by transferring them, and
Example 1: Attempting to Suppress Victim Reports of Sexual Misconduct
In many church and priest sex abuse cases, evidence has emerged showing that church officials often attempted to suppress victims’ reports of sex abuse. Basically, after receiving any such reports, church officials would attempt to contact the victim or the victim’s parents.
In some instances, church officials would attempt to convince the victim that nothing had in fact occurred. In other situations, church officials would go so far as to issue thinly veiled threats to the victim/victim’s parents. For instance, where a victim was an undocumented resident, church officials may have indicated that going to the police might trigger an immigration investigation. This would scare the victim and the parents from proceeding with a legal case.
Example 2: Shielding Perpetrators (Transferring Them to Other Churches)
In addition to evidence showing that church officials often attempted to suppress victim reports of sex abuse, evidence has also shown that church officials attempted to thwart any investigation or attention by simply transferring the perpetrator priest to other churches, congregations or parishes. By doing so, church official officials essentially turned a blind eye to the reports. Engaging in this kind of conduct tells perpetrators that they can get away with their heinous actions, and therefore perpetuates further acts of abuse.
Example 3: Misrepresentation
In a church sex abuse, the theory of misrepresentation can be substantiated in two ways. First, if a perpetrator-priest (or church employee) is transferred to another congregation and church officials fail to provide any type of notice to the new congregation employees, then it could be argued that the church officials made misrepresentations about the perpetrator, essentially vouching for perpetrator.
The second way to substantiate a claim of misrepresentation in a church sex abuse case involves the way in which church officials treat a priest/church employee who is known to have engaged in sexually abusive conduct. Church officials who fail to remove priests/church employees from active service and instead allow them to continue working in the church are essentially making misrepresentations to congregants. This is especially true for pedophile priests who are allowed to have continued contact with children, even after church officials learn of sexually abusive conduct, such as child molestation.
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