Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy Is a Scourge Upon the Land

by Frank E. Lamothe, III

Breaking news about child sexual abuse by members of various religious orders continues to emerge regularly. Besides shocking revelations within the New Orleans Catholic community, other recent stories throughout the country detail similar abuses. Pope Francis, the leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic church, recently issued an edict that institutes a detailed mechanism for reporting allegations against clergy, offers protections to whistle-blowers, and mandates support for victims.

Disturbing Stories of Child Sexual Assault Across the U.S.

Abuse allegations have come against many different church congregations. In February 2019, after a six-month investigation, the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported the names of 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers accused of sexual misconduct since 1998—allegations involving more than 700 victims. Large-scale investigations have recently been initiated against Catholic dioceses across Texas, Georgia, and California, the latest in a series of significant investigations into the Catholic church in nearly every state in the U.S. and many countries abroad. Allegations of child sex abuse have been brought against numerous other churches worldwide, including the Seventh Day Adventists and the Church of England. Other stories involve Native American children at South Dakota boarding schools, abused over many decades by clergy, staff, and other Catholic church officials.

Child Sexual Abuse Is an Epidemic

Sexual abuse of children occurs in schools, daycare facilities, religious institutions, after-school clubs and activities, sports, and everywhere else kids spend time.

In 2017, there were 523 cases of child sex abuse reported to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. According to data compiled by the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA), one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually victimized by their 18th birthdays. Nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under; approximately 35 percent of the victims of sexual abuse are age 11 or younger. Ninety percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrators in some way; 68 percent are abused by a family member.

Sexual abuse can be physical, involving contact to or with a minor (e.g., rape, oral sex, or fondling, kissing, or touching of a sexual nature). It can also include other non-contact acts of a sexual nature, such as showing explicit images to a child, revealing oneself sexually to a child or asking the child to reveal himself or herself sexually, or sexually exploiting a child for commercial purposes.

Clergy Abuse Scandals in Louisiana

In October 2018, the Catholic church released the names of 57 men who served as priests or deacons in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in connection with sexual abuse allegations against them. The church also provided the results of its extensive investigation to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office. In December 2018, the Jesuits U.S. Central and Southern Province released its own list of credible sexual abuse accusations against 42 of its members; in January 2019, the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux released yet another list of 14 priests it believed were “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, in many of these cases, the statutes of limitations have expired and criminal prosecution is no longer possible. Many of the alleged abusers have passed away. However, adults who were victims of child abuse in years past may still bring civil lawsuits to recover damages against the church, the diocese, surviving offenders and/or their accomplices—including, potentially, church leaders or the church itself, if they assisted in perpetuating or covering up the abuse. Some church dioceses have relief or compensation programs that may be available to victims (the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, for example, recently announced the creation of such a fund). An experienced attorney can help child victims of sexual abuse by the clergy understand what remedies may be available for their unique circumstances.

Are You a Survivor of Abuse?

If you are a survivor of clergy abuse or other victimization, or if you are the parent of a child who has been abused, you may be able to recover compensation for physical and emotional damages. An attorney with experience handling clergy sexual abuse cases is your best option to determine whether you may be able to recover the compensation you deserve for the harm you have survived.

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