An individual who was sexually abused by a priest or church employee often wants to know what their legal rights are. There are two potential and entirely separate legal remedies, criminal and civil.
Criminal Charges for Sex Abuse by a Priest or Church Employee
Someone who was sexually abused by a priest can and should report the conduct to law enforcement who will conduct an investigation to see if criminal charges are warranted. Most District Attorney’s offices have special victims units which handle these types of cases. The detectives and officers in these units often interview the victim, look for physical evidence, interview witnesses and may attempt to interview the alleged perpetrator.
In some cases, charges will be filed immediately. In other cases, charges may be delayed pending further investigation, or charges may be declined altogether. The single most important factor in determining whether a criminal case goes forward is strength of the evidence. If the evidence is weak, law enforcement may decide that they can’t prove the case. If this occurs, the victim still has legal recourse and may file a civil lawsuit.
Civil Lawsuit for Sex Abuse by a Priest or Church Employee
An individual who was sexually abused by a priest or church employee has legal rights to seek justice through the civil courts. These rights in no way depend on the outcome of any criminal case. The criminal case may be declined for prosecution, or the defendant can even be acquitted after a trial. Civil legal rights are entirely independent of any criminal cases.
Civil lawsuits for priest sex abuse are increasingly common. The recent Philadelphia Catholic church priest abuse scandal shined a spotlight on the extent of the problem and revealed abhorrent tactics used by church officials to shield pedophile priests. Such priests were moved from parish to parish, putting innocent parishioners and their children at risk. This type of conduct opens the church up to civil liability. In other words, the victim can file a lawsuit against both the abuser and the church entity which contributed to the abuse.
Is There Time Left to File a Civil Lawsuit?
In any civil lawsuit for sex assault or abuse involving a minor, statute of limitations issues invariably arise. Most minors who were abused or assaulted don’t come forward initially. It often takes years before an individual can come to terms with what occurred, much less take legal action. For example, a 15 year old boy who was raped by a priest or church employee may not be able to speak about the assault until he is well into adulthood, perhaps in his 20s or 30s. It’s not uncommon for someone to come forward in their 40s or even 50s. Unfortunately, statute of limitations laws are roadblocks for many victims of abuse.
Every state has adopted statute of limitations laws for civil sex abuse lawsuits involving minors. A case that is time-barred in one state may be filed in another state. Statute of limitations laws are very complex and are always being amended. If you have questions about filing a civil lawsuit for priest abuse, contact our office for a free assessment.
About Brian Kent – Sex Abuse Lawyer & Advocate for Victims of Abuse
Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who now fights for the civil legal rights of victims of abuse and assault. He has handled multiple civil lawsuits for sex abuse across the country and has also been involved in some high profile cases. His law firm, Laffey, Bucci & Kent, is currently accepting priest abuse cases across the U.S. Please call for more info. 800.220.7600
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