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Home > Pennsylvania Personal Injury > Pennsylvania Clergy Abuse Lawyers

Pennsylvania Clergy Abuse Lawyer

Religious institutions are supposed to provide a safe harbor from the moral failings of humankind, yet sexual abuse is rampant in the Catholic Church and other denominations. Shockingly, these institutions have perpetuated the abuse by protecting abusers and disregarding victims. Our Pennsylvania clergy abuse lawyers help survivors of child sexual abuse hold these institutions accountable.

This page has been written and edited by a team of experienced legal writers . This page was approved by Managing Partner, Michael Saile who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

Sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic experiences a child can experience, and most parents believe their children are safe in religious settings. The clergy is often placed on a pedestal and viewed as having a God-like persona epitomizing moral uprightness. But too often, priests and ministers sexually abuse children and use their position to intimidate them into silence.

In 2018, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury completed a comprehensive investigation of priest sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and discovered a systematic coverup. The Grand Jury concluded that church officials disregarded victims’ pain and suffering while protecting and defending the offending priests. Frequently, the church quietly transferred the perpetrators to other parishes, allowing them to abuse more children.

While clergy abuse in the Catholic Church is highly publicized, sexual abuse scandals in protestant denominations have also come to light. 

We are committed to holding these institutions accountable for their outrageous conduct in facilitating child sex abuse. If a clergy member sexually abused you, contact us now. We’ll counsel you on how you may receive significant financial compensation for the abuse facilitated by these institutions.

Cordisco & Saile LLC Will Fight to Make Sure You Get Justice

When you contact our nationally recognized, award-winning Pennsylvania injury lawyers, you can count on us to fight for you until you receive the justice you deserve. We will be your strongest advocates. Our compassionate sexual abuse attorneys will believe you, support you, and stand up for you.

We have won millions for clients injured by others through no fault of their own. We consistently achieve successful case results because we give every client personalized attention while leveraging our experience and resources to do the following:

  • Investigate thoroughly to uncover evidence that can prove your case in court
  • Skillfully and relentlessly negotiate for a fair and just settlement that truly provides compensation and justice for the harm you have experienced
  • Help you report the abuse to law enforcement
  • Connect you to additional resources and support organizations

We will work hard to settle your case so you can avoid a trial if possible. However, if a defendant refuses to take responsibility, we will not hesitate to take the fight to court.

Our clients know that we truly care about them and are willing to go to any lengths necessary to recover the compensation they need and deserve. We regularly receive unsolicited client testimonials such as the following:

“I will forever be grateful to John Cordisco for helping me through the most traumatic time in my life. He goes above and beyond for his clients. His kindness and thoughtfulness are like no other. John, Barb, and the whole staff are so professional and treat you like family! I highly recommend Cordisco & Saile.”

“I have never felt like an attorney genuinely cared about me like John Cordisco. He is so sincere. Can’t say enough about this stand-up man. Barb the paralegal is awesome too.”

“Words can’t even express my gratitude for this team. In my darkest days, crying and feeling all alone, Michelle and the team reassured me that I wasn’t alone and proved that by being by my side and actually listening to me in my time of need. They made me feel like they were part of my family and helping me feel better inside. They will always be a part of my life even when this part is over. Many, many thank you’s, to all of you!! Forever grateful.”

What Is Clergy Sexual Abuse?

The Pennsylvania Code defines sexual abuse as the following: “The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement or coercion of a child to engage in or assist another person to engage in sexually explicit conduct.”

The definition of sexual abuse includes all of the following activities:

  • The production of pornographic materials depicting sexually explicit conduct with children, whether real or simulated 
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Indecent exposure
  • Incest
  • Exploitation

Clergy is anyone who is ordained in religious ministry, including priests, rabbis, pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders.

What Percentage Of Priests Have Been Accused Of Sexual Abuse?

According to Psychology Today, approximately four percent of Catholic priests have sexually violated children. This is not necessarily more common than in the general population. An estimated one to five percent of people in the general population are pedophiles.

Catholic Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania

More than 600 priests in Pennsylvania have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse and are listed by name and diocese in our list of accused priests.

The 2018 Grand Jury investigative report identified more than 1,000 children molested since the 1940s in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses. These cases involve more than 300 Catholic priests. The Grand Jury concluded that the real number of victims is likely in the thousands because many are still afraid to come forward, and the dioceses have lost numerous secret documents.

According to the investigation, most of the victims were boys, but some were girls. Victims experienced anal, oral, and vaginal rape. Some were exploited for child pornography. In all cases, the church brushed aside victims and took whatever measures it deemed necessary to avoid “scandal.”

The dioceses adopted policies to “manage” sexual abuse as a personnel issue while continuing to financially support and house predatory priests. These policies included the following practices that were universally observed throughout the dioceses:

  • The adoption of euphemisms to describe sexual abuse by priests, such as “roughhousing,” “inappropriate contact,” “addiction,” or “boundary issues” 
  • The use of in-house rehabilitation facilities to “treat” predator priests and return them to ministry
  • The quiet transfer of priests to other parishes or dioceses without warning the public about their history
  • Continued financial support and housing of pedophile priests
  • Mandates against reporting sexual abuse to the police

Catholic Church leadership has concealed sexual abuse as a matter of policy. Catholic parishioners have often been conditioned to put priests on a pedestal, resulting in public sexual abuse accusations being met with skepticism. Even police and prosecutors failed to investigate some reports of abuse out of deference to the church. 

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Clergy Abuse in Other Churches

Clergy sexual abuse is not unique to the Catholic Church. In recent years, similar sexual abuse scandals have also erupted in protestant churches. 

In May of 2022, Guidepost Solutions, an independent investigation agency, completed its investigation of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. According to the report, at least 700 victims have reported sexual abuse by church leaders and volunteers during the past 20 years. The victims include boys, girls, and women. 

According to Darkness to Light, just 38 percent of child sex abuse victims report the abuse. This indicates the real number of clergy abuse victims in Southern Baptist Churches is likely in the thousands.

Like the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention actively concealed sexual abuse, often displaying more compassion for the abusers than the victims. However, the Southern Baptist Convention took the coverup a step further and engaged in hostile tactics against victims who courageously reported sexual abuse.

These tactics included the following:

  • Purposefully and actively ignoring victims after they filed a report
  • Refusing to take action based on claims that individual churches operated autonomously
  • Characterizing victim support groups as “evil.”
  • Casting victims in a negative light, often publicly, to make victims appear to be false accusers, opportunists, or immoral people

The Lasting Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse against children can cause significant harm that may result in long-term consequences for the child. When a clergy member commits the abuse, the dynamic is unique because children may see priests and other ministers as a direct link to God.

As a result, clergy sexual abuse has been characterized as “soul murder” by such organizations as The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. It robs a child of spiritual security and can cause the child to suffer from a crisis of faith and existential fears throughout life. 

According to the Attorney General of Illinois Clergy Report, sexual abuse by clergy may result in the following short- and long-term effects:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Nightmares
  • Eating disorders
  • Feelings of isolation and stigmatization
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger towards parents
  • Excessive distrust
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Obesity
  • Higher risks of chronic health disorders
  • Inability to maintain employment
  • Reduced professional and financial achievement

What Are The Legal Options Available to Clergy Sex Abuse Victims in Pennsylvania?

If a clergy member has sexually abused you, you have a right to seek justice. Pennsylvania allows child sex abuse survivors to seek justice through the criminal and civil court systems.

Criminal Prosecution

Sexual abuse is a crime punishable by fines, probation, and prison time. A sexual abuse perpetrator can be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for sexual abuse, and if the child was under age 13, the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years. If the abuse resulted in serious bodily harm, the perpetrator could be sentenced to life in prison.

Can Priests Be Prosecuted?

Contrary to what the church may have led you to believe, Catholic priests, pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders are not above the law. They can receive the same penalties as other child molesters. 

In addition, church leaders who become aware of child abuse are mandatory reporters who can be prosecuted if they fail to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities. Failure to report child abuse is a second-degree felony.

Civil Lawsuits

Criminal prosecution can provide a sense of justice, increase your feelings of safety, and help you begin the healing process. It also protects other children from suffering similar abuse by the same perpetrator. 

However, it does nothing to compensate you for your losses. A civil lawsuit provides an opportunity to require the responsible parties to pay you financially for these losses. 

A Johns Hopkins study found that adults sexually abused as children suffered $223,581 in productivity losses over their lifetimes, in addition to $14,357 in childhood medical costs and $9,882 in adult medical costs. This is in addition to the pain and suffering they experienced during the abuse and throughout life.

What Types of Compensation Is Available in a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

A sexual abuse lawsuit is a type of personal injury lawsuit through which you may be able to recover the following types of damages:

  • Economic damages – compensation for your actual monetary losses, such as lost earnings and medical expenses
  • Non-economic damages – compensation for your emotional distress, pain, suffering, and other intangible losses
  • Punitive damages – compensation awarded to punish the defendants for intentional or willful misconduct

Actual monetary losses are not limited to the losses you have already incurred. They include your projected lifetime losses, such as earning potential and future medical expenses. The same is true of non-economic damages.

Average Settlement for Clergy Abuse

The Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy estimates the average child sex abuse settlement in Pennsylvania at $325,000 to $500,000. However, we have seen much higher sexual abuse settlements in Pennsylvania, even as high as $3 million. If a case goes to trial, the amount could be even higher.

The most important factors that influence the compensation you recover include the following:

  • Your age at the time of the abuse
  • The nature and duration of the abuse
  • The conduct of the church regarding the abuse
  • The financial and emotional impacts of the abuse

Who Is Liable for Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Any party that caused or contributed to the abuse may be liable, including the following:

  • Priests
  • Bishops
  • Dioceses
  • Parishes
  • Foster care ministries 
  • A church or religious institution that enabled the abuse
  • The employees of a church or religious institution that participated in enabling the abuse 

How Much Time Do I Have to File a Clergy Abuse Lawsuit?

The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania gives victims of child sexual abuse 37 years from their 18th birthday to file a sexual abuse claim, or until they turn 55, according to a 2019 law.

However, survivors who had already turned 30 before the 2019 law was passed are time-barred from filing a claim. This is because the statute of limitations before 2019 was 12 years after the victim turned 18, or until the victim turned 30. The 2019 law was not made retroactive.

Thankfully, the state legislature is working to pass the Child Victims Act, which will provide these survivors with a two-year time frame, known as a lookback window, to file a claim no matter when the abuse occurred. In addition, the 2019 law removed the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse, so you can still get justice through criminal prosecution.

If you experienced sexual abuse, don’t assume the civil statute of limitations has expired. You may still have time to file a claim. We provide a free case evaluation and can determine this for you during your consultation.

Cordisco & Saile LLC Fights for Clergy Abuse Victims Throughout Pennsylvania

We serve all of Pennsylvania with offices in the following locations:

If you have been sexually abused by clergy, it was not your fault, and you deserve compensation. We will stand by you through every phase of your lawsuit and fight for justice for you. Contact us today for a free, confidential case review.

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