Can You Sue the Church for Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Photo of gavel with priest in background

The breach of trust by a member of the clergy can have incredibly damaging effects on an individual that may last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has been involved in clergy sexual abuse for years, both in the US and throughout the world. 

The idea of coming forward and reporting one’s own experiences of sexual abuse is an extremely frightening prospect for many survivors. Our firm is dedicated to helping survivors feel safe coming forward and working to hold clergy — brothers, sisters, and other agents/employees of the church — and the religious institutions that protected them accountable for their actions. If you or a loved one was sexually abused, here’s what you need to know about filing a lawsuit against the church.

Can I Sue the Church?

Yes. The Catholic Church alone has already paid out billions of dollars to clergy abuse victims. The truth is that you can sue the church for sexual abuse. Our firm has successfully sued the church on various legal theories, and Richard Serbin, a leader in our Sexual Abuse Division, has helped to make historic arguments for liability based on the theories listed. Below are some of the ways we have filed suit.

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability refers to the concept that employers are automatically held liable for the financial consequences of the wrongful acts of their employees, even if the employer itself was not at fault. Since clergy are generally employees of the church, it makes sense that an individual should be able to sue them based on vicarious liability. However, in order for an employer to be held automatically liable for the wrongful act of its employee, that employee must be acting “within the scope of employment.” If vicarious liability doesn’t apply, attorneys often turn to pursuing direct liability. 

Direct Liability

Even if the church is not considered automatically liable for sexual abuse by one of its priests, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t file a lawsuit against them. If vicarious liability does not apply, you can try to hold the church liable on the basis of its own negligence or other wrongful conduct. One example would be a church failing to perform a background check before hiring a priest. Another example would be the church intentionally concealing previous abuse committed by the same clergy member. Our firm has also helped shape arguments for liability based on fraud and conspiracy theories. 

If you can uncover misconduct that is attributable to the institutional behavior of the church itself — whether by negligent hiring, negligent supervision, or an outright cover-up — you can still win a lawsuit against the church. 

How Do I Begin a Sexual Abuse Case?

When you’re dealing with the psychological trauma of sexual abuse, it can be hard to even think about moving forward and understanding the legal system, but that’s where a sexual abuse attorney can help. 

Our experienced sexual abuse lawyers will serve as your trusted allies, helping you understand your rights, guiding you through the legal process and putting you in the best position to maximize your recovery. Besides offering legal counsel every step of the way, our lawyers have worked with thousands of sexual abuse survivors, and have the sensitivity to work with you and understand the complicated emotions that you might feel along the way. 

Sexual Abuse Lawyers with Historic Wins for Survivors

The law firm of Janet, Janet & Suggs has a long history of advocating for sexual abuse survivors. Our nationally recognized team has triumphed over many sexual predators — including groundbreaking cases involving the Catholic Church. If you or a loved one are a survivor of sexual abuse, we’re here to handle your case with extreme sensitivity and deft legal strategy. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case, and let us help you seek the justice you deserve.

Scroll to Top