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SEXUAL ABUSE LAWSUITS

MASSACHUSETTS CATHOLIC CHURCH SEXUAL ABUSE LAWSUITS

Fighting for Survivors of MA Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse

If you were sexually abused by a Catholic priest or clergy member in Massachusetts, you may have grounds to pursue a civil claim and compensation for your losses.

Sweeping investigations and court filings have confirmed a dark legacy of child sexual abuse within all four of Massachusetts’ Roman Catholic Dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Boston. These records reveal that Church officials routinely failed to protect children by ignoring complaints and shielding abusive priests, and that they fostered a culture of concealment and cover ups that allowed clergy to abuse children without consequence for decades.

Now, Levy Konigsberg is helping survivors across the state take advantage of victim-friendly legislation to hold the Catholic Church accountable.

Levy Konigsberg is a nationally respected trial practice known for litigating civil sexual abuse lawsuits against the country’s most powerful institutions and religious organizations. If you have questions about a potential case, our Massachusetts Catholic Church sexual abuse lawyers want to help. Call or contact us online for a FREE and confidential consultation.

History of Child Sexual Abuse in Massachusetts Catholic Dioceses

Decades of investigations, record releases, and civil legal filings provide damning evidence about the pervasive sexual abuse within Massachusetts Catholic Dioceses, which include the Archdiocese of Boston and the Dioceses of Springfield, Fall River, and Worcester.

As the record shows, Catholic leadership in Massachusetts routinely failed to protect children by concealing complaints of abuse and covering up for abusive priests and clergy. This willful deceit created a culture that allowed clergy sexual abuse to thrive for decades and for church leadership to keep survivors silent.

Some examples of notable investigations and record releases include:

  • In August 2023, advocates and lawmakers called on the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to release its findings on the scope of sexual abuse within the Catholic Dioceses of Fall River, Worcester, and Springfield. Their request came 20 years after the MA AG’s Office released its infamous report on the Boston Archdiocese, which created a public record of the widespread abuse in the state’s largest Catholic diocese. According to advocates and survivors, including many who were interviewed by AG investigators in 2021, a report about the three remaining dioceses would further illustrate how Church leadership worked intently to silence survivors and provide greater insight into how the dioceses turned a blind eye to abuse committed by clergy.
  • In February 2023, the Diocese of Worcester, which covers central Massachusetts, released a report about child sexual abuse committed by clergy dating back to 1950. The new report updates a previous release from 2004, and lists 209 cases of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2022, 173 of which were identified by the Diocese as “credible,” 28 that were unsubstantiated, and 8 that were false or withdrawn. The report was criticized by many advocates who say it likely undercounts scores of clergy abuse incidents over the 70+ period it covers and that its failure to name the 78 abusive priests shows how Church leaders continue to protect abusive clergy.
  • In June 2021, the Fall River Diocese released a list of credibly accused clergy based on internal investigations and findings. The list included 75 clergy members who were “credibly” or publicly accused of child sexual abuse dating back decades, with most involving incidents that occurred between the 1960s and 1970s. The Diocese, which noted that roughly 7% of the 450 priests who served since its founding in 1904 have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse, identified 28 credibly accused priests as deceased. In December 2021, the Diocese added three more credibly accused priests to the list: Father James Buckley, Father Edward Byington, and Father Richard Degagne, who also served in the Worcester Diocese.
  • In July 2003, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General released a comprehensive report chronicling widespread sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. The 90+ page report includes cases of substantiated clergy sexual abuse dating back six decades and cites the Archdiocese’s “institutional acceptance of abuse and massive and pervasive failure of leadership” as reasons for why abusive priests and clergy members were able to abuse so many children with impunity. Investigators also noted that Archdiocese officials knew of the scope of its sexual abuse problem years before it became public knowledge, but continued to conceal complaints, insufficiently investigate reported abuse, shield abusive priests by not reporting them to authorities or by transferring them to other positions and parishes, and take other unacceptable steps toward protecting its reputation rather than children and church members.

In addition to these investigations and publicized internal records, the Church’s legacy of child sexual abuse has been further evidenced by years of high-profile civil lawsuits and public payouts. Some examples include:

  • In October 2023, the Diocese of Fall River agreed to settle a civil lawsuit brought by a 70-year-old man who was sexually abused by a priest when he was 8 years old. According to the legal filing, the man had been sexually abused in 1960 at a church in Attleboro, Massachusetts by Rev. James Porter. In 1993, Porter pleaded guilty to molesting at least 28 children while he was a priest in the Fall River Diocese during the 1960s and 1970s. He was sentenced to 18-20 years in prison and died before his release in 2004. The Fall River Diocese had previously reached an undisclosed settlement with 68 survivors sexually abused by Porter.
  • In May 2023, the Fall River Diocese agreed to settle a civil suit brought by a former alter boy who was sexually abused by Father Richard Degagne. According to the lawsuit, Degagne repeatedly sexually abused the victim in 1988 and 1989 when he was 12 and 13 years old and serving as an altar boy at St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford. The survivor discussed years of trauma and addiction caused by his abuse and how he struggled for decades before coming forward. Degagne was one of the priests listed in the Fall River Diocese’s 2021 report of clergy “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse. According to diocesan records, he also worked at St. John in Attleboro, Holy Name in Fall River, Notre Dame in Fall River, Sacred Heart in North Attleboro, Immaculate Conception in Taunton, St. John Neumann in East Freetown, and Immaculate Conception in North Easton.
  • In November 2021, the Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay confidential sums to settle two civil lawsuits brought by child sexual abuse survivors. Cases resolved by the settlement include one from a survivor who was sexually abused by Rev. John K. Connell and Irish priest Brian Gallagher while he was hosted at the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Milton, and another from a survivor who was abused by Patrick J. Tague, who served as a priest in Hingham and Braintree.
  • In September 2003, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85 million to settle nearly 550 lawsuits brought by survivors who were sexually abused by priests and other clergy members. At the time, the landmark settlement was the largest ever paid by an American diocese to resolve sexual abuse cases.

Massachusetts’ Civil Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations

In Massachusetts, survivors of sexual abuse have a limited amount of time to pursue civil lawsuits and financial compensation for their losses.

This time limit is known as the statute of limitations, and it can vary from case to case depending on specific circumstances – including whether the victim was abused as a minor or an adult. For example:

Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit SOL in Massachusetts

As in other states, Massachusetts lawmakers have worked to pass legislation that better accounts for the difficulties sexual abuse survivors face when it comes to processing their abuse, connecting that abuse to resulting damages in their lives (such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health issues), and making the decision to step forward and speak out.

Until recently, victims of childhood sexual abuse had only three years from the date they turned 18 to file civil claims for damages against their abusers and any institutions that failed to protect them. Today, however, recent amendments provide child sexual abuse survivors with more time to bring claims.

There are two sections of the law that apply to child sexual abuse claims in Massachusetts:

  • Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260 § 4C states that minor victims of sexual abuse may file civil claims within 35 years since the final act of abuse or within 7 years of discovering that they suffered damages as a result of their abuse, whichever is later. This means that victims may still bring claims even if it has been more than 35 years since their abuse. Additionally, the statute of limitations can be “tolled” until child victims turn 18. This would afford a child victim 35 years from the date they turn 18 to bring a claim.
  • Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260 § 4C-1/2 applies specifically to claims brought against individuals or entities that negligently supervised a person who sexually abused a minor or otherwise caused or contributed to child sexual abuse. This can include churches, schools, and other institutions that failed to protect minors who were abused by priests, employees, volunteers, or others under their supervision. This section of the law provides the same statute of limitations as mentioned above; 35 years from the alleged act or 7 years from the time the victim discovered an emotional or psychological injury resulting from their abuse.

Adult Sexual Abuse Lawsuit SOL in Massachusetts

Massachusetts law has no specific statute of limitations applicable to civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse against adult victims. As such, these claims are treated like other torts and will have the same statute of limitations as claims for personal injury.

  • Per Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260 § 2A, the statute of limitations for filing civil suits over personal injury, which also applies to civil sexual abuse claims filed by adult victims, is 3 years from the date of injury/abuse .

While adults have significantly less time than children to file sexual abuse lawsuits, survivors can still file within this limited time frame by enlisting the help of experienced counsel as soon as possible. In some very limited circumstances, the statute of limitations may also be tolled. This includes claims brought by mentally ill or disabled adults and claims against defendants who have spent time outside of the state.

Legal Update: Pending Bill Could Open the Door for More Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Against the Catholic Church

The research makes it clear: it takes years or decades for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to process their abuse and hold abusers and responsible institutions accountable. In fact, studies have estimated that, on average, child sexual abuse survivors don’t step forward until the age of 52.

This being the case, advocates and lawmakers have worked tirelessly to support legislation that better reflects the research and eliminates statutes of limitations that function largely as barriers to justice and protections for liable institutions.

In Massachusetts, for example, lawmakers are considering a proposed measure (Bill S. 1088) that would eliminate the statute of limitations entirely for civil lawsuits filed over child sexual abuse. Should this measure pass, it would give survivors of childhood sexual abuse the right to bring legal actions against abusers and/or institutional defendants that negligently supervised abusers no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

While other states have passed similar legislation to lift the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits, there is still much work to be done. This is especially true as entities for whom these cases pose considerable threats – such as the Catholic Church – strongly oppose the passing of such laws.

At Levy Konigsberg, our sexual abuse team has seen firsthand how sex abuse SOL laws are rapidly changing. As a firm that fights for survivors in civil cases, we know new laws and proposed measures have major impacts on our clients’ rights to pursue justice and compensation and closely track pending bills to provide survivors with insightful counsel. If you have questions about the statute of limitations and your potential case, we’re available to discuss it during a consultation.

How Do Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuits Work?

Levy Konigsberg has extensive experience representing survivors in sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church, including various dioceses, archdioceses, unaffiliated Catholic Churches, and other Catholic-affiliated schools and programs.

The lawsuits we handle are civil claims, which means they focus on holding defendants (which are most often institutions that negligently supervised an abuser) liable for damages suffered by survivors. As civil cases, they do not concern an abuser’s criminal guilt and are unaffected by any criminal proceedings that may arise in connection to the abuse.

Because the cases we handle are entirely separate from criminal cases, you may still have a claim even if:

  • Your abuser is deceased.
  • Your abuser was never criminally investigated.
  • Your abuser was never charged or convicted.

Recoverable Damages in Church Sexual Abuse Claims

In addition to holding the Church accountable, civil sexual abuse claims allow survivors to recover financial compensation for their damages. This may include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional anguish and psychological harm
  • Past medical and mental health expenses
  • Future mental health expenses, including therapy, medications, etc.
  • Lost income
  • Other economic and non-economic damages

Call For a FREE Consultation:

Levy Konigsberg has recovered more than $3 billion in compensation for clients, including more than $50 million for survivors of sexual abuse. Our attorneys have also received widespread coverage in the media for our handling of high-stakes sexual abuse cases, including featured articles published in the NY Daily News, Gothamist, and The Baltimore Sun.

If you have questions about pursuing lawsuit against a Roman Catholic Diocese, our Massachusetts Catholic Church sexual abuse attorneys want to help. We proudly serve survivors statewide and work on contingency, which means there’s no cost to hire and no fee unless we win.

Call or contact us online for a FREE and confidential consultation

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