(Updated Feb. 15, 2018)

When an organization fails to prevent its members from abusing children, the survivors of this abuse may be able to hold the organization accountable through legal action. While nothing could ever make up for the horrors of sexual abuse, by filing a lawsuit, survivors may be able to obtain at least a small measure of relief and justice.

ClassAction.com attorneys are now exploring legal action against the Roman Catholic Church, the Jehovah’s Witness church, and the Boy Scouts of America for cases in which they may have failed to prevent child abuse.

If you or a loved one were abused by a member of the Catholic clergy, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a scoutmaster, please contact us to learn your rights.

Clergy Abuse Prompts Relief Funds

As depicted in the movie Spotlight (and of course in the Boston Globe stories that inspired the film), child abuse by Catholic clergy members has been a problem for decades. In New York alone, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has received 200 complaints of sexual abuse by at least 50 priests or deacons.

The archdiocese opposes the Child Victims Act, which would extend New York’s statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse.

To remedy that injustice—and to stave off future litigation—in October 2016 the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had established a fund to compensate victims of sexual abuse at the hands of its priests: the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, or IRCP.

The Church has since established compensation programs in other parts of the state, like Syracuse. While some consider these funds a step in the right direction, the compensation programs also work in the Church’s favor, for a couple reasons:

  • The compensation program is confidential, so it keeps details of abuse from coming to light.
  • When someone enrolls in the program, they forfeit their right to sue the Church. This also keeps the details of each case private—and it may result in a smaller payout than what an abuse survivor could have received from a jury.

Anne Barrett Doyle, one of the directors of BishopAccountability.org, said that the New York Archdiocese presents the IRCP “as a mercy, but it’s actually a shrewd strategy.”

The director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, David Clohessy, said that the timing of the IRCP’s formation is a direct response to efforts by New York lawmakers to reform the state’s statute of limitations laws.

The archdiocese opposes the Child Victims Act, which would extend if not eliminate New York’s statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse. It has lobbied intensely and spent more than $2 million to keep the bill from becoming law.

If the act passes, the church would likely face a flood of litigation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses Accused of 30-Year Coverup

The Jehovah’s Witness church, which is owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, has also weathered child sexual abuse scandals. Lawsuits allege a 30-year coverup of abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Victims are now seeking justice against the church for failing to protect children from known sex offenders within the congregation.

Church members were told to report abuse to the church rather than go to police.

In 1989, Watchtower allegedly instructed church elders to report cases of abuse directly to them instead of to law enforcement. Church members were also told to report abuse to the church rather than go to police.

But when victims reported abuse, they say nothing happened. Their abusers often remained in the congregation, going on to victimize and traumatize even more children.

Over the years, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have amassed thousands of names of alleged child abusers that they have never turned over to the authorities. In 2015, the court hit Watchtower with a $13.5 million verdict after the organization failed to turn over documents and provide witnesses in a lawsuit filed by José Lopez. Mr. Lopez alleged he was abused by a church elder named Gonzalo Campos. The verdict has since been overturned, but the case is still being litigated.

In a separate case filed by another of Campos’ alleged victims, the court issued sanctions for withholding internal documents. Starting in April 2016, the church was ordered to pay $4,000 for every day they withheld records. They now face nearly $2 million in penalties.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have amassed thousands of names of alleged child abusers that they have never turned over to authorities.

The New York state legislature is poised to vote once again on the Child Victims Act. If passed, it will provide victims of child sex abuse within the church a one-year window in which to pursue legal action against their abusers, regardless of their current age.

These windows are rare, and if the bill is approved, it is vital that victims seek justice immediately. Our attorneys are closely following the Child Victims Act and are prepared to represent victims of child sexual abuse against Watchtower.

Boy Scouts of America Keeps “Perversion Files”

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is supposed to be a way for kids to learn survival skills and the value of teamwork. Unfortunately, Boy Scout troops can attract morally bankrupt men who use their positions as scoutmasters to prey on children.

There are 1,247 BSA files pertaining to instances of molestation or sexual abuse of Scouts between 1965 and 1984. Ostensibly these “perversion files” exist to prevent known abusers from committing these terrible crimes again. But too often, according to the Los Angeles Times, the files and the BSA failed and endangered innocent Boy Scouts.

The Times notes 50 instances of known pedophiles who were able to rejoin the Boy Scouts after being “blacklisted.”

The Times notes 50 instances of known pedophiles who were able to rejoin the Boy Scouts after being “blacklisted.” In some cases, a BSA employee did not check the files before allowing a past offender to join the Scouts. Or the offender used a different name in a different part of the country, or benefited from a clerical or computer error.

In others, like the cases of Mark Bumgarner and Richard Stenger, a BSA executive lifted the offender’s probation or suspension—with disastrous consequences.

BSA officials say that these files have prevented hundreds of suspected pedophiles from serving as scoutmasters. But according to the Times, the organization also “fought hard in court to keep the records from public view, saying confidentiality was needed to protect victims, witnesses and anyone falsely accused.”

In 2015, the BSA settled a sex abuse lawsuit brought by a 20-year-old former Scout after his former scoutmaster, Al Stein, allegedly molested the plaintiff in 2007. By doing so, the BSA kept 100,000 pages of other “perversion files”—dated from 1991 to 2007—sealed off from the public.

This is not the only way the Boy Scouts of America has tried to silence victims of sexual abuse.

BSA, Archdiocese Help Block Child Victims Act

New York’s notoriously harsh statute of limitation (SOL) laws require child victims of sexual abuse to file charges by the time they turn 23. For context, some states have no statute of limitations at all for these cases.

“How can you look the survivors in the eye?”

In 2016, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) proposed the Child Victims Act, a law that would have eliminated or extended New York’s SOL. Unfortunately, the bill fell just short of reaching the state legislature’s floor for a vote that summer.

Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the act, said, “How can you look the survivors in the eye?”

In 2017, the Child Victims Act was again killed by Republican Congresspersons in New York, most likely in response to hard lobbying by organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

In announcing his 2018 budget plan, Governor Andrew Cuomo emphasized that he wanted the Child Victims Act to pass. Given the #MeToo movement and ever-louder support for victims of sexual abuse, this could be the year the bill finally succeeds.

We Fight for the Children

ClassAction.com attorneys are now exploring legal action against the Roman Catholic Church, the Jehovah’s Witness church, and the Boy Scouts of America for cases in which they may have failed to prevent child abuse.

If you or a loved one were abused by a member of the Catholic clergy, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a scoutmaster, contact us to learn your rights.