The sex abuse scandal that has publicly rocked the Catholic Church for more than a decade has actually been around much longer than that. Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press writes that one priest, who happens to have founded an entire religious order dedicated to rehabilitating his abusive colleagues in the 1950s, wrote to a pope and several bishops about the difficulty of getting them to change their ways. He wrote, “[R]eal conversions will be found to be extremely rare. Hence leaving them on duty or wandering from diocese to diocese is contributing to scandal or at least to the approximate danger of scandal.” But this is apparently what church officials did.
ABC News reports that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is the sixth-largest in the country with about 1.5 million Catholics and around 800 priests. According to The New York Times, five local priests from the Philadelphia Archdiocese considered “unsuitable for ministry” were defrocked this May. These five were taken from a larger pool of 26 local priests suspended in 2011 for sex abuse or other inappropriate sexual behavior, although at least 63 priests were named in two grand jury reports. At least 37 priests suspected of sexual misconduct were still involved in active ministry as of March 2011. Six of these men are under investigation by Philadelphia’s district attorney.
There have also been at least six lawsuits brought against the diocese by victims of abuse and molestation and their families. One victim, Phil Gaughan, now 31, was abused over several years when he was serving as an altar boy from the ages of 14 to 17. He tried to bring the issue up with the diocese directly while the abuse was happening, but he was consistently ignored. Gaughan’s lawsuit claims that the church set up a victim’s assistance program, but rather than providing counseling, it was a way of callously funneling information from traumatized victims directly to attorneys and church higher-ups. This incredible betrayal of trust has affected thousands of people just like Gaughan. Estimates of the number of priests involved in such activity range from around 4,300 (as cited in the 2004 John Jay report, commissioned by American bishops) to 6,100 (as determined by calculations posted onbishop-accountability.org, a watchdog group).
A former victim of clerical abuse and current victims’ rights activist John Salvesonemphasizes the different treatment the church gets when compared with lay organizations: “The people at Enron did not have the option of saying to the Justice Department, ‘We’ll get back to you in a year, and we’ll tell you if we think they did anything wrong.’”
Victims are increasingly angry and upset that the church is spending so much time dragging its feet, but there have been many civil suits brought against the church, totaling approximately $2.6 billion since 1950.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the inappropriate actions of a clergy member, you may be within your rights to bring a lawsuit against the church or the individual that wronged you. If you are interested in reading details about the settlements and monetary awards granted to victims of sexual abuse by American Catholic clergy, please visit this site for an up-to-date database and get in contact with an attorney who will be able to advise you about whether or not you are able to seek compensation.