Home Health Demystifying the Process: How To Get Justice for Clergy Sexual Abuse

Demystifying the Process: How To Get Justice for Clergy Sexual Abuse


Nothing is sacred to abusers. 

Abusers seek any source of power they can gain over others, infiltrating all manner of professions and gaining access to people in every sphere. What was once thought an untouchable space, a space where it was thought that only people with the best intentions tend to serve and nothing heinous could occur, has since been revealed to be a hotbed for unreported abuse. 

The Catholic church has become infamous for how it has handled pedophilia within its walls, covering up and concealing thousands upon thousands of instances of sexual abuse and using its influence and wealth to strongarm victims into silence. Forgive and forget, they say, as they went on to cover up more of the vile corruption in their midst, leaving victims behind not knowing what to do next.

If you are one of these victims, you might be relieved to hear that state laws are turning against this kind of behavior and allowing cases that were buried to be exhumed, the perpetrators held accountable. Pursuing retribution for the abuse you suffered won’t be easy, and you might decide not to do it just because you don’t want to relive that pain; but should you choose to, this article aims to answer some questions you might have as to how. Equipping yourself with the knowledge needed to go through the process might make it a little easier to face those painful memories in a public forum.

Here are some commonly asked questions about the process to seek justice, and their answers:

The Probability of Facing Your Abuser

The chances of having to come face to face with the person who hurt you are slim. The lawyers who work on these cases are often well aware of how sensitive these matters are and will do everything they can to protect you from your abuser if the case even goes to court. However, there’s a slim probability that the case will even go to court, as the church likes to settle these kinds of suits out of court. The clergy member won’t show up in court at all unless their testimony is explicitly necessary, which you will be warned of.

Who Would Be Held Responsible, and Why?

If you decide to levy a civil suit against the church, you’ll likely be suing the diocese where the abuse was committed and not the Vatican itself. The Catholic church is split up into several distinct organizations that all watch over themselves, with the Vatican being treated as the head of them all. While it is possible to sue the Vatican, and some are considering it, a case against your local diocese will be much, much easier to win. This is because the diocese over the area where the clerical abuse was committed is more directly responsible for making sure incidents like that don’t occur. In theory, clerical organizations have taken steps to reduce the amount of abuse under their roof. The argument will be made that abuse occurring is the result of an oversight on the local diocese’s part, not the Vatican.

How Can You Win Your Case?

Unlike criminal suits, civil suits don’t require evidence that dispels all reasonable doubt: they merely require a preponderance of evidence, which means all you have to do is establish a greater than 50% chance that the events you’re describing happened. Things like the testimony of mental health professionals can help in demonstrating the effects of clergy abuse if nothing else, while the testimony of friends, family, and current clergy may be able to corroborate your story.

A Long, Hard Road

Nothing will make going through this process easier, though a strong support group might lend you aid. Sugarcoating how difficult and how arduous the process of suing the church can be would be a disservice, and it will likely be a mentally exhausting, traumatic affair in of itself. But seeking and attaining justice for yourself, if you decide to take this path, might make it easier for others and make it more difficult for abusers to hide in the shadows.

Do what’s best for yourself above all, what’s needed for your peace of mind and security. And continue on the path to recovery the only way you can: doing what you can for yourself.

David Smith