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THE FIRM YOU GO TO WHEN THE
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SEXUAL ABUSE LAWSUITS

RHODE ISLAND CATHOLIC CHURCH SEXUAL ABUSE LAWSUITS

Representing Survivors of Child & Adult Clergy Abuse

If you or someone you love were sexually abused by a member of the Catholic clergy in Rhode Island, you may be entitled to compensation.

In recent years, various record releases and court filings have produced evidence of a rampant sexual abuse problem within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. In addition to revealing that more than 50 priests and clergy members have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse in parishes across the state, the records also show that church officials engaged in a decades-long coverup that enabled predator priests to abuse children without consequence.

Now, survivors are stepping forward in increasing numbers to seek justice and hold the Church accountable. Our award-winning attorneys at Levy Konigsberg are here to help.

Levy Konigsberg is a nationally recognized trial practice with a legacy of litigating civil sexual abuse lawsuits against powerful institutions and religious organizations. If you have questions about a potential case, call or contact us online for a FREE and confidential consultation with a Rhode Island Catholic church sex abuse attorney.

Internal Records Reveal Long List of Accused Clergy in Rhode Island

Like other Roman Catholic dioceses that have been forced to respond to high-profile scandals, the Diocese of Providence has taken steps to publicize the names of priests and other church members who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

In July 2019, the Diocese released the first iteration of its list of credibly accused priests. That list, which was released on the same day that legislation was passed to extend the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases, includes allegations dating back to 1950 against priests and clergy members who served as parishes, schools, and other locations across the state.

As of 2023, the Providence Diocese’s list of credibly accused priests includes 55 names broken down into several categories. These include:

  • Credibly accused living clergy – 13
  • Credibly accused living deacons – 1
  • Credibly accused living non-diocesan clergy – 1
  • Credibly accused deceased clergy – 33
  • Credibly accused deceased religious order priests – 4
  • Credibly accused deceased deacons – 1
  • Publicly accused deceased clergy – 2

Notably, this list has its limitations. In addition to leaving out critical information about when and where abuse took place, the list includes only the names of priests who have faced accusations which meet the Church’s definition of a “substantiated allegation.” As such, they leave out many priests and clerics who have been accused of abusing minors in Rhode Island over the years.

Legal Filings Detail Dark History of Sexual Abuse in Rhode Island Catholic Churches

In addition to lists of credibly accused priests released by Rhode Island’s Providence Diocese, various legal filings, criminal cases, and high-profile settlements have revealed alarming claims about the scope of child sexual abuse within Rhode Island Catholic Churches and how Church officials failed for decades to report abusive priests and protect victims. Some examples include:

  • In December 2023, Former Rhode Island priest, Rev. James W. Jackson, was sentenced to six years in federal prison for downloading and storing thousands of images of child sexual abuse. The investigation, initiated in September 2021, revealed over 12,000 images and 1,300 videos of child sexual abuse on devices traced back to the rectory at St. Mary’s Church where Jackson served.
  • In June 2023, Father James W. Jackson pleaded guilty to federal charges of child pornography possession after a computer and digital device located in St. Mary Church in Providence was flagged by law enforcement.
  • In June 2022, Kevin Fisette was charged with first-degree sexual assault in connection for sexually abusing a young boy between 1981 and 1982 while serving as a deacon at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Hopkinton and as a chaplain at Rhode Island Hospital. Fisette served at numerous Rhode Island parishes from 1981 to 2009, when he was removed from ministry.
  • In July 2021, former priest Edward Kelley was indicted on three counts of first-degree sexual assault over abuse that occurred in 1983 in North Smithfield. Kelley served in numerous parishes in North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and Cumberland from 1968 to 2013.
  • In November 2021, a Rhode Island grand jury returned an 11-count indictment charging former priest James Silva of sexually assaulting a minor male victim between 1989 and 1990. Silva served as interim director and assistant director at the Office of Ministerial Formation within the Providence Diocese from 1986 until 1991.
  • In November 2020, former priest John Petrocelli was indicted on multiple counts of child molestation for sexually abused three minor boys multiple times during his tenure as assistant pastor at Holy Family Parish in Woonsocket between 1981 and 1990. Petrocelli was the subject of a 2008 case in which the Providence Diocese agreed to settle claims from survivors who were abused by Petrocelli and other priests.
  • In March 2019, the Diocese of Providence publicly acknowledged that it paid more than $21 million in its attempts to resolve over 130 clergy sex abuse claims involving priests and church members in parishes and church-run schools throughout the state.
  • In August 2008, the Providence Diocese agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle claims brought by four survivors who were sexually abused by priests when they were children.
  • In September 2002, the Providence Diocese agreed to pay $13.5 million to 36 survivors who were sexually abused as minors by members of the Catholic Church. The claims involved allegations against 11 priests and a nun.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in Rhode Island?

in 2019, Rhode Island lawmakers passed legislation to expand the statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases from seven to 35 years. This means that survivors who were sexually abused as minors have until the age of 53 to file suits against their abusers and specifically any person or entity that would be considered a “perpetrator” of the abuse.

While expanding the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases was a welcomed move, Rhode Island’s law has been criticized for its idiosyncrasies that make it exceedingly difficult to sue institutions, such as the Catholic Church, that enabled or cover-up sexual abuse.

Specifically, in July 2023, the Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of child sex abuse lawsuits brought against officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Providence who enabled and covered-up the sexual abuse of children by priests. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that, while these survivors could maintain their claims against the priests who perpetrated the abuse, they could not use the extended 35-year time limit to sue the Providence Archdiocese and its officials who are considered “non-perpetrators”. The Court explained that although the Archdiocese officials conduct was “deplorable”, they did not commit the acts, or specifically aid or abet the acts, and therefore were outside the scope of defendants who could be sued under the 35 year time-limit. This decision prevents most survivors from suing institutions such as the Providence Archdiocese, thereby allowing this outrageous misconduct to go unpunished and failing to protect children.

To change the law, new legislation has been proposed. One bill currently working its way through the Rhode Island legislature would repeal the statute of limitations for claims against abusers and institutions entirely, similar to a law passed in Maine.

Our team at Levy Konigsberg is closely tracking proposed legislation to eliminate Rhode Island’s civil sexual abuse statute of limitations and is available to discuss your legal options for pursuing a claim under current law. We can explain the statute of limitations in your case during an initial consultation.

Do I Have a Case?

You may have grounds to file a civil legal action if:

  • You were sexually abused by a priest, church volunteer, or other clergy member.
  • The abuse occurred anywhere in Rhode Island.

At Levy Konigsberg, we support survivors in civil actions that aim to hold the Catholic Church accountable for its failures to stop abusive priests and protect victims. These civil claims are separate from any criminal proceedings and focus on holding the Church liable for damages. This means that you may still have a claim even if:

  • Your abuser is no longer alive.
  • Your abuser was never charged or convicted of a crime.

Recoverable Damages in Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Claims

In addition to accountability and providing the sense of justice survivors deserve, civil sex abuse lawsuits allow survivors to recover financial compensation for their damages, which may include:

  • Past medical and mental health expenses
  • Future mental health expenses, including therapy, medications, etc.
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional anguish and psychological harm
  • 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 millions in compensation for survivors of sexual abuse. We’re passionate about helping survivors seek justice and provide the firepower they need to fight back against powerful institutions like the Catholic Church.

If you have questions about pursuing a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Diocese of Providence over abuse that occurred anywhere in Rhode Island, we want to help. Call or contact us online for a FREE consultation.

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