New abuse suits could see Church pay over $4 billion as 15 US states revise laws that address past child sexual abuse by clergy
There has been a flurry of reports -- potentially over 5,000 -- as a result of the new laws and they could cost the Catholic Church a whopping $4 billion.
Attorneys across the US are busy filing lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy after laws with restrospective effect came into force recently. Rules have been enacted in 15 states that extend or suspend the statute of limitations to allow old claims of such abuse, the Associated Press reported.
According to the report, there has been a flurry of reports -- potentially over 5,000 -- as a result of the new laws and they could cost the Catholic Church a whopping $4 billion. The issue could see major repercussions in states like New York, California and New Jersey that are Catholic strongholds and are among the 15 that acted together to do away with the restrictions that once prevented people from speaking out on their childhood sex abuse after crossing an age limit, often in early 20s.
The new laws have been a game-changer. While many veterans have found a welcome opportunity to claim justice over alleged abuses that took place decades ago, the Catholic dioceses are worried about defending old claims and are considering bankruptcy and victim-compensation funds to save their backs.
AP spoke to over a dozen lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups and it came out that at least 5,000 new cases were expected to come up against the church only in New York, California and New Jersey, resulting in payouts that could cross $4 billion mark. The national average per child sex abuse case since 2003 is $350,000.
The last time California opened a one-year window to lawsuits in 2003, the church paid an average $1.3 million per case.
A #MeToo movement impact?
According to some lawyers, the payouts could be highly influenced by the recent #MeToo movement in which public figures were accused. Also, the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury last year that found 300 priests having abused over 1,000 children in the state in a span of seven decades. Following this, attorney generals in nearly 20 states started investigations of their own.
“The general public is more disgusted than ever with the clergy sex abuse and the cover-up, and that will be reflected in jury verdicts,” AP quoted Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based attorney who was involved in several lawsuits against the church in that city, as saying.
Paul Mones, a lawyer from Los Angeles who has won numerous sex abuse cases against the church since the 1980s, said the “zeitgeist is completely unfavorable to the Catholic Church”. He said if the plaintiffs decided to go ahead with the trials instead of a settlement, then the payouts would become massive.
Leaders of the church were afraid of this very situation for it is very difficult to find witnesses now to counter the accusations and also many of the accused priests are dead and hence cannot defend themselves anymore.