In August 2018, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a public statement alongside a Grand Jury Report which published its findings after a detailed investigation into the long history of childhood sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Sexual abuse was found to be pervasive in six dioceses throughout the state, including the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
If you were sexually abused as a child, or you are the parent or guardian of a child who is a victim of such abuse, you should consult a Philadelphia clergy abuse lawyer who can help you understand your rights and protections. Munley Law attorneys have experience with sexual abuse lawsuits and with compensation funds for cases involving numerous victims. We are standing by to help. Call, chat or fill out our online form and one of our clergy abuse attorneys will help you understand your rights.
Philadelphia clergy abuse compensation fund
In response to the Grand Jury Report, the Philadelphia Archdiocese has set up a compensation fund for victims. Philadelphia’s compensation fund began accepting claims from victims in November of 2018 and will continue to do so until September 2019. The fund will be overseen by a three-person committee consisting of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell of Maine, former interim Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley Hodge, and retired federal judge Lawrence Stengel. The Archdiocese plans to get this money from borrowing, property sales, investments and insurers. Church officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will not have a role in determining monetary amounts. Furthermore, these payouts will be determined by a number of factors, including the severity of the abuse, the age of the victim, and the long-term effect on the victim’s life.
The attorneys at Munley Law have handled cases involving victim compensation funds and can advise anyone who is interested in submitting a claim. We will answer your questions and help you decide the best course of action.
Through its investigation, the Grand Jury identified over 300 Catholic priests as predators who sexually abused children while serving in active ministry in the Dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. An earlier report identified over 300 predator priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia alone. Detailed accounts of over 1,000 sexually abused children have emerged, with the jury stating they believe the real number to be much, much higher.
The grand jury also found that church officials including bishops, monsignors, etc., knew about the abuse but routinely covered it up to avoid scandals and criminal charges. Often, priests who committed these horrendous crimes would be shuffled from parish to parish, with parishioners completely unaware of what was happening behind the scenes.
Abuse victims’ rights in Pennsylvania
Many victims of childhood sexual abuse are not always aware of their rights. In Pennsylvania, victims have the right to file a lawsuit against the abuser and any other person or institution who was involved with or aware of the crime. Under current laws, victims abused before the age of 18 have the right to file a civil case until they turn 30 years of age, while criminal cases can be filed until age 50. Munley Law only handles civil cases, but we will help our clients find a criminal attorney if they decide to pursue a criminal case.
In response to these laws, the grand jury has advised that several important common-sense reforms be enacted. These reforms include:
- Eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children. As the current law stands, there is a time limit for these crimes to be reported. If they are not reported by the time the victim reaches 50 years of age, the abuser cannot be charged or prosecuted.
- Creating a “civil window” so older victims who are ready to come forward can sue for damages. Currently, victims have only 12 years to sue once they turn 18. Victims in their 30s only have two years to file a civil lawsuit.
- Clarifying penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse. Anyone aware of sexual abuse is required to report it to the police.
- Specifying that Civil Confidentiality Agreements don’t cover communications with law enforcement. This means that no past or present nondisclosure agreement prevents a victim from talking to the police.
But what exactly constitutes sexual abuse? The most widely accepted age of consent is 18, making any sexual encounter with a child younger than this age illegal, because they legally cannot consent. Sexual assault includes indecent exposure, sexual exploitation, penetration and rape. Assault becomes sexual abuse when it occurs over an extended period or becomes repetitive, and carries stiffer penalties.
Childhood sexual assault or abuse of any kind is traumatizing and can lead to physical, emotional and psychological effects that may last a lifetime. Often, the abuse is committed by a person the child knows or trusts. It is not uncommon for victims to repress their memories or be unwilling to come forward until years later.
The most common ways for a victim to receive compensation are through criminal trials, civil personal injury lawsuits, or both. Other ways include economic compensation for medical, therapy, and prescription costs, or loss of wages; non-economic for intangibles like emotional pain and suffering; and punitive damages.
Child Sexual Abuse Statistics
Unfortunately, most childhood sexual abuse cases are not reported, making the prevalence of abuse difficult to determine. The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse
- 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a sexual assault or abuse incident as a child
- Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth aged 14-17 were victims of sexual assault
Childhood sexual abuse can lead to many long-term consequences. It is important to remember that each victim is different, and will heal in his or her own time frame. Long-term physical effects can include chronic pain, sexually transmitted disease, gastrointestinal disorders, gynecological complications, and sexual performance problems.
Emotional and psychological issues can include post traumatic stress disorder, anger, guilt, anxiety, shame, fear, emotional and physical withdrawal, depression, sleep disorders, and suicidal tendencies.
Munley Law has a long history of winning cases for residents in the Philadelphia area. Last year, attorney Daniel Munley led a legal team at Munley Law which won a $4 million judgement for a young woman who was victimized when she was a minor by someone she knew and trusted.
The clergy abuse lawyers in Munley Law’s Philadelphia office have a proven track record in getting justice for survivors of abuse. We have seen the devastation suffered by victims and their families. We know the justice system cannot erase your suffering, but it can punish the wrongdoers and help ensure the abuse does not continue. If you or your child is a victim of childhood sexual abuse and you are ready to come forward, Munley Law child abuse attorneys will help you. Contact our legal team now for a free case evaluation. You can take comfort in knowing that if we represent you, you will have the best possible legal team with no out of pocket costs. We only get paid when we win your case.