New Court Rulings: What They Mean for Victims

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Catholic Church

Sexual Abuse Legal Developments in the Church Horowitz Law

There’s been a flurry of new legal developments involving laws on sexual abuse lately that merit at least a quick mention here. Some of them raise a question that merits examination because they reveal a severe mismatch or disparity between what Catholic officials SAY about abuse and what they DO about it. Here are a few new developments and a thought or two about how those who fight violence and support survivors might respond to them.

A few weeks ago, Colorado child sex victims were dealt a significant blow when the state’s highest court tossed out a civil ‘window’ measure that enabled victims of childhood sexual trauma to file lawsuits and expose predators regardless of when the crimes occurred. How might we respond? It may help only a relatively small number of wounded Coloradoans; we might remind them that they should still consult with an attorney experienced with child sex cases. In the law, there are often exceptions. For example, if their perpetrators ever took them, even once, across state lines and abused them, legal action might be possible for them in that other state. And we might urge everyone we know in Colorado to contact lawmakers and push for a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of child sex abuse victims to seek justice in court.

On the same day, these two headlines appeared on the Abuse Tracker:

Appeal court rules revival of old child sex abuse claims is constitutionaland “Appeals court says Phoenix Diocese can’t duck sex abuse lawsuit.”

As each headline makes clear, the bad guys lost. In two states. On an important issue: whether or not child sex abuse victims can have their day in court. We should savor and remember these victories, especially since there are many setbacks in our collective quest for justice, healing, and prevention. They help remind us that, despite the ups and downs in the struggle to protect kids, our society, laws, and courts are gradually moving towards greater safety for kids and accountability for abusers.

Last week, abuse survivors in New York also achieved a ‘win‘ when a federal judge sent dozens of clergy sex suits back to a local court, removing them from a bankruptcy ‘freeze’ on litigation. Without getting too far down in the weeds, the ruling simply means that church entities that consider bankruptcy protection an easy way to protect assets, predators, and secrets may have to think again. It also means that judges are beginning to see through a common church defense in abuse cases: endlessly and expensively delaying and delaying while simultaneously claiming to want ‘resolution’ and ‘healing.’ 

Finally, a judge ruled that E. Jean Carroll’s latest lawsuit against Donald Trump can proceed. (Recall that she accused him of abusing her. She won at trial. Now, she’s suing him for slander.) Though this development doesn’t appear linked to clergy sexual abuse, in one crucial sense, it is. Victims often perceive high-profile figures in both the secular and spiritual realms to be ‘too powerful’ to accuse or sue. Carroll’s success is a reminder that this is less and less often the case. Men once thought of as ‘invincible’ or ‘Teflon’ or just too influential to take on are increasingly being brought to justice. This includes prominent businessmen and bishops, popular politicians, and prelates.

We might all do well to remind anyone we know who may have been sexually violated that this is increasingly so: the powerless are slowly gaining power, and those who have long stood on high pedestals are slowly toppling. And speaking of reminders, here’s another one: New York state’s civil window for those abused as ADULTS, like Carroll, expires this November. Spread the word!

So, is there a contradiction between what Catholic officials SAY about abuse and what they DO about abuse? Almost daily, if one peruses the news, one can find a Catholic bishop, cardinal, or other high-ranking church official or spokesperson claiming that the abuse rate by priests, brothers, monks, nuns, and parish employees is nearly minuscule. But what ought to make church-goers scratch their heads is this: If that’s true, if abuse is rare in the church now, why does the denominational hierarchy fight so hard against reforming secular laws that protect predators and stymy victims?

As Shakespeare so famously said, “Methinks thee doth protest too much.” In other words, why fight against abuse victims if so few of them are being hurt now by Catholic clerics? Let’s hope that more and more rank-and-file parishioners question their purported spiritual guides about how they plan, scheme, posture, and lobby in secular power circles to protect their secrets.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.