When Faith Turns to Fear and Trust Leads to Tragedy
For many people, their church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community plays a central role in their lives. They turn to their faith leaders for spiritual guidance and comfort. They rely on their houses of worship and the people who work and volunteer there to educate and care for their children. They trust these individuals and their religious institutions deeply and implicitly.
But all too often, that trust is broken and their faith is destroyed. Sexual abuse by clergy, often with the complicity, denial, or willful ignorance of others in positions of power and authority, has shattered countless lives. Even a single sexual abuse or misconduct incident can cause a lifetime of psychological and emotional trauma. Victims are left struggling with a range of overwhelming emotions, from shame to fear to anger to a loss of faith and trust. Some blame themselves for their abuse or try to bury their emotions and numb themselves with substance abuse, self-harm, or other destructive behaviors.
Whatever the fallout from acts of sexual abuse, spiritual leaders who commit these heinous crimes and the religious institutions that cover them up need to be held accountable. They should pay for their sins and provide survivors with compensation and closure to aid in their healing.
A Shameful Record of Sexual Abuse by Clergy and Religious Organizations
The problem of sexual abuse within religious institutions transcends any one faith or denomination. Over the past several decades, much attention has focused on the long history of sexual misconduct and coverups in the Catholic Church. Indeed, the record of sexual abuse committed by priests and others in the Church spans generations and continents, upending the lives of millions of parishioners, leading to countless lawsuits, and the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars to victims.
In just a 12-month period between 2019 and 2020, 3,924 child sexual abuse survivors in the U.S. filed 4,228 allegations against Catholic clergy and others in the Church, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Church continues to receive hundreds of accusations of abuse by clerics every year, with minimal response from the Vatican or the diocese in which the abuse occurs.
Turning a Blind Eye and Sexual Abuse Coverups
But sexual abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church. Other Christian denominations, Jewish congregations, and other religious organizations have faced similar allegations. Leaders in every religion are in positions of authority and trust as they develop relationships with youth, and every faith has contended with individuals who use their power to “groom” victims so they can engage in criminal sexual activity. In an effort to protect its authority, image, and finances, religious institutions have a vested interest in and are incentivized to minimize, dispute, or cover up sexual abuse secrets and allegations.
For example, a report issued in May 2022 revealed that leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) mishandled sexual abuse claims, intimidated victims and their advocates, and resisted attempts at reform for over two decades. As the report stated, “Abuse allegations were often mishandled in a manner that involved the mistreatment of survivors,” and the primary concern “was avoiding any potential liability for the SBC.”
Justice for Victims No Matter How Long Ago Abuse Occurred
Child victims of sexual abuse by clergy and others in religious organizations often carry the burdens of their trauma for years or decades until they are ready to come forward. For a long time, such individuals could not file a claim in Maine and seek justice because the abuse occurred too long ago.
But Maine legislators recognized it should never be too late for child sexual abuse victims to hold perpetrators accountable for the pain and harm they caused. That is why they changed the law to allow any victim of childhood sexual abuse to sue and seek compensation from their abuser, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Berman & Simmons Practice Group Leader Michael Bigos testified in the legislature on several bills to help survivors and was present when Maine Governor Janet Mills signed the new law to extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims.
Compassion and Closure for Sexual Abuse Victims Betrayed by Religious Organizations
At Berman & Simmons, our lawyers specialize in working with survivors of sexual abuse, including those victimized by clergy. We will work with you in a manner that acknowledges the difficulty of discussing your experiences. With empathy, respect, patience, and a steadfast dedication to your well-being, we will listen to you and guide you through the process at every step. Our trauma-informed lawyers are committed to maintaining confidentiality, respecting personal boundaries, and standing up against the clergy, institutions, and others who betrayed your trust and prayed not for your soul but your silence.
If you suffered sexual abuse as a child and are ready to speak with one of our Maine child sexual abuse attorneys and learn more about your rights, please contact us to arrange a free, confidential initial consultation.