A Path Forward for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse in Maryland
Child sexual abuse by members of the clergy has long been a painful reality. While children were abused by those in positions of trust, their abusers have often been shielded by both institutional inaction and outdated statutes of limitations that failed to account for the difficulties faced by child sexual abuse survivors. In recent years, there have been growing efforts around the country to uncover clergy sexual abuse and to reshape civil statutes of limitations to allow child sexual abuse survivors to seek justice through the legal system.
In Maryland, two such developments occurred almost simultaneously, creating a path forward for survivors of institutional sexual abuse, including by members of the clergy, to bring civil clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, irrespective of when the sexual abuse occurred.
Maryland AG Investigation Reveals Widespread Pattern of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Cover-Ups
On April 6, 2023, the Maryland Attorney General released a more than 450-page report detailing a disturbing pattern of clergy sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The report’s findings revealed a harrowing history of abuse spanning over 80 years, during which over 150 priests and church employees abused more than 600 children in the state of Maryland. More troubling still, the report described repeated efforts by the Archdiocese to conceal and cover up clergy sexual abuse and to move repeat sexual offenders from parish to parish, exposing the predators to even more children with each move. As the report notes “[t]he incontrovertible history uncovered by this investigation is one of pervasive and persistent abuse… [and] repeated dismissal or cover up of that abuse by the Catholic Church hierarchy.”
Maryland Passes Child Victims Act, Eliminating Statute of Limitations
Just five days after the Maryland Attorney General’s office released its searing report on clergy sexual abuse, the Maryland Child Victims Act was signed into law. The Child Victims Act eliminates the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors and opens a revival window for expired claims. Previously, survivors of child sex abuse only had until age 38 to file a civil lawsuit. For private entities, such as churches, damages are capped at $1.5 million for non-economic damages. While the passage of the Child Victims Act almost immediately followed the release of the Maryland AG report on clergy sex abuse, it also applies to public entities (for example, public schools not affiliated with churches). For public entities, damages are capped at $890,000. The Child Victims Act goes into effect on October 1, 2023.
How Eliminating Statutes of Limitations Helps Sexual Abuse Survivors
Ordinarily, civil cases are subject to statutes of limitations, meaning that an injured person must bring a lawsuit within a certain period of time or they may lose their chance to do so. For survivors of child sex abuse, civil statutes of limitations have long been barriers to the pursuit of justice against abusers and negligent institutions. This is because of a phenomenon called “delayed disclosure.” Because of delayed disclosure, it can take decades for child sexual abuse survivors to feel comfortable reporting their abuse to anyone–let alone filing a lawsuit. Scientists have found that 55–69% of child sexual abuse survivors did not disclose the abuse until they were adults. Maryland’s Child Victims Act allows survivors of child sex abuse, irrespective of when the abuse occurred, to file civil lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that failed to protect them.
Seeking Justice for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse
The passage of the Maryland Child Victims Act provides survivors of child sexual abuse in Maryland an opportunity to seek accountability for the sexual abuse they experienced as children. It is a significant step toward empowering survivors and dismantling the culture of silence that, as highlighted in the Maryland Attorney General’s report, has allowed this kind of abuse to persist for decades throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Our team of experienced attorneys at Nigh Goldenberg Raso & Vaughn is dedicated to providing compassionate representation for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Ready to talk? We are here to support you every step of the way. Call 202-925-4500 for a free consultation on your legal rights if you have been sexually abused by a member of the clergy.