There have been a growing number of lawsuits alleging abuse at the hands of a clergy member in recent years. To date, thousands of lawsuits have been resolved, with billions of dollars being paid out in damages as a result. However, victims continue to come forward across the United States, meaning that clergy abuse lawsuits are still ongoing. There are even widespread investigations being conducted by attorneys general, such as the attorney general of Michigan.

June 2024 Update

The Diocese of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $10 million settlement in a clergy child sex abuse case involving Father Eleuterio Ramos and Father Siegfried Widera

Clergy Abuse Lawsuit Updates

Is there a clergy abuse lawsuit?

Yes, there are currently lawsuits taking place against clergy members alleging abuse. There have been many cases over the years against religious orders, church leaders, Catholic dioceses, and individual clergy members. Within the past decade alone, there have been thousands of lawsuits related to clergy abuse. There are two big reasons why clergy abuse lawsuits are becoming more frequent.

First, it often takes many years for abuse victims to feel ready to file a lawsuit. It is common for victims who were abused as children to wait until they are adults to report the incident. Second, many states have adjusted their laws to make it easier for victims of clergy abuse to come forward and file a lawsuit. For example, some states have extended the statutes of limitation related to these cases or suspended them for a period of time. As more states continue to adjust their laws, we could see even more clergy abuse lawsuits in the future.

According to data from, more than 6,700 priests and other clergy members have been accused of abuse between the years 1960 and 2016. This has led to many lawsuits across the U.S., with the total number currently unknown. Across the U.S., Catholic dioceses have paid more than a combined $3 billion dollars to the many victims.

There have been many notable settlements in the U.S., with the largest being for $660 million. This settlement, which occurred in 2007, resolved the claims of more than 500 victims against 221 priests, brothers, and other church employees in California. There was also an $85 million settlement in Boston, which resolved more than 550 cases.

Clergy abuse linked to long-lasting psychological damage

Numerous studies have shown the devastating, long-lasting impacts of clergy abuse. In many studies related to clergy abuse, victims report suffering from conditions such as anxiety and depression, along with difficulties in forming interpersonal relationships. Some studies have even found that those abused as children have a higher mistrust of institutions as they grow older and experience many of the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These studies come from a variety of sources, such as private Jesuit universities, public research journals, and even the Catholic Church itself. However, regardless of the sources, each study shows that victims of sexual abuse from a member of the clergy often experience long-lasting, negative effects. Given these findings, many more people have begun to speak out about their own abuse, including filing lawsuits.

Measuring & Exploring Moral Injury Caused by Clergy Sexual Abuse

One study from Xavier University aimed to “measure the moral injury caused by clergy sexual abuse.” As defined by the study, moral injury is the result of a betrayal of trust, which disrupts one’s beliefs and moral compass. Elements of moral injury include spiritual anguish, social alienation, emotional distress, and a distrust of institutions. Moral injury can also overlap with, or extend beyond, PTSD.

According to the research, clergy sexual abuse resulted in moral injury to survivors. Researchers conducted this study by surveying adult survivors of clergy sexual abuse, of which 389 responded to at least part of the survey. The questionnaire focused on the participants’ religious beliefs, awareness of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and experiences of moral injury related to clergy abuse.

The study compared responses from survivors of clergy abuse to others aware of clergy abuse, such as Xavier staff and students. Researchers found that, on average, total moral injury scores for survivors were higher than those of the other groups. However, the results also indicated that while moral injury was generally higher among those connected directly to clergy sexual abuse, impacts also spread among groups with connections to the Catholic Church.

Effects of Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priests on Adults Victimized as Children

A study published in the Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity journal in 2008 aimed to examine the impact of clergy sexual abuse and how it compares to abuse from a layperson. The study aimed to answer two questions. The first was about the psychological and spiritual impacts on people who experience sexual abuse when the offender is a Catholic priest, while the second wanted to know if there was a difference in symptoms between those who were abused by a priest and those abused by a layperson.

The researchers discovered that, while there were no significant differences between the two groups, both groups experienced significant negative effects. In both groups, there were high levels of depression along with strong indications of learned helplessness. According to the findings of the study, “because there are often long-term psychological effects of childhood sexual abuse and the abuse may go unreported for decades, maintaining a statute of limitations is inadvertently helping the abuser.”

Sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church and other institutions: A literature review

Another study reviewed previously published literature that examined the extent of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church. This analysis included 40 previously published studies about the Catholic Church and 13 additional studies concerning other institutions besides the Catholic Church.

The study outlines the major consequences suffered by children of abuse from members of the clergy with the hopes of spreading more knowledge on the extent of the problem. According to the authors, “Knowledge on the role of institutions in sexual abuse of minors and psychological distress following these experiences is necessary to point the way to improvements in prevention and intervention strategies.”

Sexual Abuse at the Hands of Catholic Clergy

A massive study published in 2019 explored over 38,000 personnel files of Catholic clergy from 1946 to 2014. From these personnel files, the researchers were able to identify 1,670 people who belonged to the Catholic clergy and who were accused of sexual abuse of a minor, or roughly 4.4% of the entire clergy. Researchers also discovered that 62.8% of the victims were male and that 66.7% of them were under the age of 14 when the abuse took place.

Another finding of the researchers was that, on average, the abuse lasted for around 1.3 years and that “hands-on” abuses occurred in more than 80% of the cases. Many of the victims reported serious consequences as a result of the abuse, including impairment to their health and social functioning. Commonly reported symptoms included depression, anxiety, sexual problems, and issues with interpersonal contact.

Finally, the researchers note that their figures are likely the lower bound of the actual frequency and that the asymmetrical power relationships within a closed system like the Catholic Church can facilitate sexual abuse.

Understanding Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priests from a Situational Perspective

Finally, one study aimed to learn more about the criminal events themselves, rather than the offender’s motivation or an individual’s risk factors. The purpose of this study was to help craft intervention policies that may prevent sexual abuse. The researchers’ findings concluded that situational factors play a role in victim choice. For example, priests abused more males than females because priests historically had more access to male youth. Once female youth increased in the 1990s, the percentage of victims who were female also rose.

Projected clergy abuse settlement amounts

Settlement amounts for clergy abuse cases can vary significantly. There is no set amount for clergy abuse cases and there is no guarantee that your case will receive a settlement. Factors that can influence your settlement amount include the nature of the abuse sustained, the age of the victim, the duration of the abuse, and the negative impacts suffered by the victim as a result of the abuse.

Clergy abuse cases are similar to other types of sexual abuse cases. This means that victims are entitled to damages that they sustained due to someone else’s actions. Typically, the damages recovered in clergy sexual abuse cases are more noneconomic losses, which include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, and emotional trauma. Noneconomic damages differ from economic damages, which have a monetary value associated with them. However, victims of clergy sexual abuse may be able to file economic damages if they received medical treatment because of the abuse or, in some cases, if there was a loss of wages.

While there is no standard settlement amount, some similar cases have settled for between $150,000 and $500,000. Again, this will depend on factors such as the extent of the injuries and the duration of the abuse. To gain a better understanding as to what sort of settlement you could expect in your specific case, consult with a lawyer.

Do you qualify for a clergy abuse lawsuit?

Any person abused by a member of the clergy has the right to hold their abuser accountable. If you or your child experienced abuse from a member of the clergy, you can speak to a lawyer about filing a lawsuit. The lawyer will then discuss your case with you, including whether you are able to file a lawsuit and who you are able to file a lawsuit against.

For example, in many cases, it is better to bring a claim against the church, rather than the individual clergy member, as the clergy member may not have substantial financial assets to pay any awarded money. In addition, if you were abused as a child, there may be a statute of limitations in place. A lawyer can discuss all the specifics with you and recommend the best course of action based on your circumstances.

Clergy Abuse Timeline: 

June 2024

$10 Million Settlement: The Diocese of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $10 million settlement in a clergy child sex abuse case involving Father Eleuterio Ramos and Father Siegfried Widera

March 2024

  • Pope Francis’s Commitment: Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to combating clergy sexual abuse during a meeting with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, emphasizing the need for continuous efforts despite ongoing challenges.

February 2024

  • Archdiocese of Baltimore Legal Proceedings: Survivors objected to the proposed February 26 deadline for submitting abuse claims in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s bankruptcy case. This deadline was contested as part of ongoing legal battles following the implementation of the Child Victims Act in Maryland.

January 2024

  • Settlement in Orange and Los Angeles Counties: The Diocese of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $10 million settlement in a clergy child sex abuse case. This significant settlement involves cases dating back over 40 years and highlights ongoing issues of church leaders covering up abuse.
  • Diocese of Erie Updates Disclosure List: The Diocese of Erie updated its Public Disclosure List with new names under investigation for allegations of sexual abuse, demonstrating ongoing efforts to address and publicize accusations.

April 2023

  • Maryland Legislative Changes: A report by the Maryland Attorney General detailed decades of abuse by over 150 priests, seminarians, and employees of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, involving more than 600 children. This led to the Maryland legislature passing the Child Victims Act of 2023, which eliminates the statute of limitations for child abuse victims. This law, effective October 1, 2023, allows survivors to file lawsuits regardless of when the abuse occurred.

August 2022

  • FBI Investigation in New Orleans: The FBI opened an investigation into the New Orleans Archdiocese regarding allegations that priests trafficked children across state lines for molestation.

June 2021

  • Significant Allegations Reported: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reported 4,228 child sexual abuse allegations by 3,924 survivors between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. These involved over 2,700 clergy members across the United States.

2020s: Ongoing Legal and Institutional Challenges

  • Lawsuits continue, including new cases and historical cases enabled by changes in statute-of-limitation laws in various regions. Continued calls for transparency, accountability, and justice from survivors and advocacy groups.

2010s: Continued Legal Battles and Church Responses

  • The Church implements various measures to address the issue, including the establishment of new policies for the protection of minors, training programs, and more rigorous screening of clergy. Pope Francis acknowledges the crisis and vows reform, though criticism continues over the perceived inadequacy of the Church’s response.

2000s: Global Acknowledgment and Legal Repercussions

  • Sexual abuse cases and cover-ups within the Church are revealed globally, including in Ireland, Australia, Canada, and many other countries. The Catholic Church faces numerous lawsuits, leading to settlements totaling billions of dollars and significant financial strain on many dioceses.

January 2002

  • Boston Globe Spotlight Investigation: A major turning point comes with the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team exposing widespread sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese. This investigation brings the issue into the international spotlight and leads to public outrage and numerous legal actions.

June 1992

  • Growing Awareness and Legal Action: Numerous lawsuits are filed against priests and the Church for sexual abuse cases. The Church begins to face significant public scrutiny and legal challenges.

October 1985

  • The Case of Gilbert Gauthe in Louisiana: The case becomes one of the first widely known incidents of clergy sexual abuse in the US. Increasing media coverage begins to shed light on the issue, although it’s still not widely recognized as a systemic problem​ (NCR Online)​​ (BishopAccountability)​.

1980s: The Issue Begins to Surface Publicly

1960s-1970s: Increasing Incidents, Still Largely Unreported

  • Cases continue to occur but mostly remain hidden, with the Church often transferring offending clergy to different parishes or roles without legal action or public acknowledgment.

1940s-1950s: Early Cases and Awareness

  • Some of the earliest documented cases of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church begin to emerge, though largely unreported in the media.