A new report has revealed concerning details about clergy sex abuse in Maryland and the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s failure to protect children from predator priests. The scandal is similar to the reckoning in Louisiana over sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The findings from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office are a reminder that the clergy sex abuse crisis isn’t limited to one state. In Maryland and Louisiana, church leaders failed to report abuse to law enforcement, leading to offenders continuing to spend time with children.
The Maryland report covers 80 years and emphasizes how the church fell short in keeping children safe from harm. “The sheer number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying upon children are astonishing,” it reads. The report details how some priests were allowed to retire quietly after facing abuse allegations. In other cases, victims reported the crime to priests who were abusers themselves. Many of the clergy members accused of abuse died without facing any accountability for their crimes.
A Failure To Report Sex Abuse
While clergy are mandatory reporters in many situations, there are loopholes. In many states, clergy can choose not to report sex abuse in certain circumstances. For example, Louisiana priests don’t have to alert law enforcement about sex abuse allegations if they are revealed during confession. The Maryland report found that even when priests did report sex crimes, law enforcement often failed to investigate appropriately.
It’s not unusual for the government to investigate the Catholic Church. At least 20 states have opened investigations into the church in recent years. Last June, the FBI opened a probe into sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans. The results of the investigation haven’t yet been made public.
Sex Abuse Lookback Laws
Last month, Maryland’s legislature passed the Child Victims Act of 2023, a bill that allows sex abuse survivors to sue their offenders regardless of when the abuse took place. Previously, victims couldn’t sue after they turned 38 years old. So-called “lookback laws” have gained traction nationwide. Last year, Louisiana passed a similar law allowing victims a two-year window to sue for sex abuse regardless of when the offense occurred. These laws recognize the complexity of recovering from child sex abuse. It can take decades for a survivor to come forward; the median age for reporting is 52 years old. Removing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits allows victims to seek justice on their terms.
Unlike Louisiana, Maryland’s law is in effect permanently. Victims can bring forward lawsuits indefinitely, even if a crime occurred decades ago. In contrast, Louisiana victims only have until June 14, 2024, to file lawsuits. And unfortunately, Louisiana’s sex abuse lookback law is being challenged by a lawsuit claiming the law is unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province on May 1. Other state lookback laws have also been challenged, but the courts have ruled in favor of the lookback laws. It’s unclear when the Louisiana Supreme Court will issue its ruling, but it will impact current and future lawsuits. Child sex abuse victims should still consider their legal options while waiting for the Court’s ruling and before time runs out.
The Impact Of Sex Abuse
It’s difficult to overstate how damaging clergy sex abuse can be for victims. Places of worship are supposed to be safe havens, but abusive authority figures can use their power to prey on children. Clergy sex abuse can cause mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Children who are abused might exhibit behavioral problems and struggle with signs of trauma. These adverse effects can follow sex abuse survivors and make it difficult to adjust to adulthood. Some victims report trouble finding employment or staying in school because of their violating experiences.
Louisiana sex abuse lawsuits can provide victims with compensation to help them move forward. While no amount of money can erase the effects of trauma, having funds for therapy, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Additionally, if a powerful institution like the Catholic Church acted negligently and didn’t stop the abuse, they may be found liable in court.
Louisiana lawsuits under the “lookback window” must be filed by next summer, so moving quickly is essential. Herman Herman Katz represents more survivors of sexual abuse in the New Orleans archdiocese bankruptcy than any other firm involved. If you’re considering legal action, let us help. Call our firm at 844-943-7626 or contact us online for a free and confidential case evaluation or more information.
Soren E. Gisleson, is a Partner at Herman, Herman & Katz, L.L.C. and attorney advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
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