Headlines reporting the alleged sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy continue to dominate the media. As incidents taking place in Philadelphia and the surrounding Pennsylvania dioceses are brought to light, stories of clergy abuse against older female victims have become more frequent. For female clergy abuse victims, the aftermath of sexual abuse can be devastating. Female victims of clergy abuse can suffer physical and psychological trauma requiring ongoing medical treatment and psychological counseling.
Although much of the media spotlight remains on underage victims of clergy abuse including school students and altar boys, allegations of clergy abuse of grown women highlight another serious problem for the Church. One study indicates that over three percent of grown women who regularly attend religious services have experienced unwanted sexual advances from a clergy member.
Allegations of priest misconduct with adult women range from sexual harassment in the form of unwelcomed advances, priests exposing or grabbing their genitalia, unwanted fondling, penetration, rape, and other criminal sexual conduct. Similar to the molestation of a child by a priest, the sexual crimes against grown women committed by priests are clothed in secrecy and an abuse of church power. Adult women can be particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse by a priest in the context of counseling and spiritual advisement.
Recently released grand jury reports have alleged ongoing child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Altoona-Johnson, and Philadelphia. In addition to identifying over 300 alleged priest predators, the investigative panel named other potentially liable Church officials including monsignors, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals who may have covered up for the priests. All these entities face potential liability in private suits filed by abuse victims.
As more allegations of sexual abuse of grown women begin to emerge, these same liability issues arise. Many adult female abuse victims report a “conspiracy of silence” among Church officials who encourage victims to remain quiet about their allegations and demand victims sign confidentiality or non-waiver agreements before any retribution is made. Male and female survivors of clergy abuse continue to advocate for transparency within the church in the handling of sexual abuse allegations.
While male priests were the main focus of the Pennsylvania grand jury investigations, other abuse victims throughout the country have made allegations against female religious members. Several years ago, members of the Ursuline Order were sued over abuse of students by a nun at Minnesota catholic boarding school dating as far back as the 1950s. The Ursulines eventually reimbursed the victim and her family for the costs of counseling and tuition. Other female religious orders that have faced litigation over past abuse by nuns include the Sisters of St. Francis, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
The number of nuns in the United States continues to decrease annually, with numbers indicating as few as 75,000 active nuns in the country. According to the Survivors Network of those Abuses by Priests (SNAP), over 400 reports have been filed alleging sexual abuse by nuns. The Catholic Church asserts it has no jurisdiction over individual orders of religious women.
With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and nationwide. To speak with a dedicated Pennsylvania clergy abuse lawyer at Williams Cedar today, call us at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777 to arrange a free consultation or contact us online.