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Child Sexual Abuse by Priests, Canada

Sexual Assault Lawsuits against Churches

Child sex abuse victims may receive settlement offers/letters from Churches offering money to settle child sexual abuse claims. When Priests or other religious officials are convicted of molesting or sexually abusing children, the church may attempt to contact the victims to propose a settlement. Settling such claims quickly may avoid further public scandal and a potentially incredibly expensive lawsuit.

Upon receiving such a letter, you are well advised to contact a lawyer to ensure your interests are protected.

Is the Church Financially Responsible for the Priest's Sex Assault?

Whether the Church can be held financially or vicariously liable for the sexual abuse of the Priest or Minister depends on the facts of the case. Factors that are important include whether the Priest is a religious official to the victim, where the abuse occurred, the relationship between the victim and the Priest, the manner in which the Priest and the victim met, etc.

If you receive a letter offering a settlement, this is a good indication that the Church believes it may be found liable in a civil suit against it. At the end of the day, this is a question of law, which is why it is advisable to contact a lawyer for an opinion.

It is critically important that the church or the corporation behind the church be financially liable to pay any settlements because without this many times the victim will not be able to collect on the judgment. Unless the Priest or perpetrator is independently wealthy, sex assault victims may find themselves suing a judgment proof individual and thus they are unable to collect no matter how much money they are awarded.

Where does the Church get the money to pay the settlement?

This can come from insurance policies or simply the assets held by the church. Many churches are known to be very wealthy organizations, but, depending on the circumstances, it may only be the local diocese or its corporation that is found vicariously liable for the abuse. In situations that only the local dioceses can be financially tied to the abuse, if the local diocese does not have the money to pay the judgment, the international, or national church may choose to pay it out for them (despite perhaps not being technically bound to do so).

Settlement Offer Amount

As is evident from the documentation presented on this website about civil sex assault actions, sexual abuse and assault claims can result in fairly significant damages being awarded by the courts. Given the amount of money that is perhaps at stake, one must be extremely careful in accepting an initial offer to settle. There is no guarantee that the offer made by the church is reasonable or in accordance of similar cases of abuse. The job of a sexual assault lawyer is ensure the victim only agrees to a settlement that is fair and reasonable in the circumstances. 

How Often are Churches Sued?

It's hard to know how often churches are sued for sexual abuse claims because most cases settle out of the public eye. Moreover, not all cases that do reach the courts are reported on. One thing appears certain: sexual assault lawsuits against Priests and churches are becoming more common. Many times, lawsuits are brought in relation to abuse that occurred decades ago. The increase in victims now coming forward is likely due to a corresponding increase in criminal charges being filed against Priests and other religious figures. There have been numerous "high profile" scandals and as such awareness of sex abuse in churches and its legal ramifications has grown tremendously. Movies, such as the Boys of St. Vincent, have also helped raise public awareness of child sexual abuse that has taken place in church settings.

Most likely, the number of lawsuits brought forward by sex abuse victims will increase as the public becomes more and more aware of their options to recover financially for their losses.

Statements against interest

Victims should also be aware that any statements they make against their own interests can be used in court against them. Any statements you make regarding the sexual abuse, your losses, your health, etc. to the church or their lawyers may damage your case. Such statements can be damaging in themselves or be used in the future to exemplify inconsistency in testimony or other statements.

If you've received a settlement offer, or are the victim of a sexual abuse, you must understand that any statement you make, to anyone, can be potentially damaging. This is why it is critical that you contact a lawyer to receive legal advice if you've been abused.

Am I Wrong to take money from the church?

This is more of a moral question than a legal one. Many would argue it is wrong for sexual abuse victims not to be compensated for their losses. Many would also argue that it is wrong for a church not to protect its members (particularly its members who are children) from harm caused to them by their employees (whether they are Priests, Ministers, or other workers). It is even more egregious for a church to intentionally cover up the wrongdoing of its employees in order to protect itself as an organization.

Churches do a lot of good, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be held responsible for their wrongs - much like anyone else. The identity of the perpetrator does not change the fact that you are a victim. Like any other victim, you deserve compensation for your losses.

Deciding whether to pursue financial compensation from the Priest, Minister or church that hurt you is a personal decision. Nobody can or should make this decision for you, its something that must be determined on an individual level. Our goal is not to encourage abuse claims, but to provide information on sexual assault financial compensation to victims.

A word of caution

We must recognize that the vast majority of Priests, Ministers, and other religious officials are good people who do not commit acts of sexual abuse. It is important that we not assume that any particular religious official has a greater propensity to commit sexual assault than any other person in society. Sexual abuse is committed by people of all occupations, religions, and backgrounds. No particular church ought to be viewed as more likely to be an institution that has a greater propensity for sexual abuse than any other organization in society.

Obtaining legal representation

Given the amount of money potentially at stake and the risk of harming your case case, it is advisable to contact a lawyer for legal advice if you receive a settlement offer or letter from a church involving a potential sex assault settlement.

Disclaimer: All information on this page is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice or presumed to be completely accurate, or infinitely up to date. If you have questions regarding your case, please contact a local lawyer immediately because there are time limitations on civil claims. Failure to contact a local lawyer immediately could prevent you from making a claim.

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