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Sexual Abuse by Priests and Church Officials

February 1, 2020  ·  By HM&M


Abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, brothers, or other church officials is physically and emotionally devastating. In these cases the victims put their trust and faith in a member of the clergy only to be exploited sexually and left to feel a lifetime of guilt and loss of trust.

From roughly the 1950s to the 1980s, child sexual abuse by clergy occurred across the country virtually unchecked. Churches, including but not limited to the Catholic Church, hid allegations of sexual abuse and fellow parishioners often failed to believe the victim or blamed the victim for the abuse. Therefore, while child sexual abuse pervaded churches during this time period, victims faced significant barriers to reporting the abuse and receiving care for the emotional harm caused by the abuse. It is clear that the Catholic Church put its reputation ahead of innocent victims for many years by hiding abuse committed by its employees.

In the past, adult victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of priests, brothers, or other clergy members would have been barred from suing the perpetrators and their employers—generally, a church or religious order—by state statutes of limitations and repose. However, when a victim of childhood sexual abuse cannot discover his or her injury, based on the unique damage associated with childhood abuse and the refusal of church authorities to disclose the actions of their clergy, then the law must accommodate that plaintiff.

Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. is dedicated to fighting for the right of victims of sexual abuse to finally get the truth from the religious institutions that have so often fought to protect the abusers and not the abused.Our Chicago sexual abuse lawyers are experienced in handling a wide variety of sexual abuse cases, including cases against the following:

The Archdiocese of Chicago

Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. has represented many victims of sexual and physical abuse by priests and other agents of the Archdiocese of Chicago. We recently obtained a record $12,000,000 settlement from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago on behalf of three children permanently injured by severe abuse by a foster parent under the supervision of Catholic Charities.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has released a list of over 55 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. It has also released secret files “relating to the sexual misconduct of 30 priests of the Archdiocese.” Click here to read the Archdiocese of Chicago Secret Files on each priest. We believe information is still being withheld—that there are many more priests guilty of sexual abuse that are not on the original list, and that there are more secret files that are still being withheld. Our mission is to force the Archdiocese to take responsibility for all priests who have abused children, including Father Daniel McCormack. As part of our mission we have filed dozens of lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Chicago, seeking justice for the victims of sexual abuse.

The Diocese of Joliet

Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. filed five lawsuits in the Circuit Court of Will County, Illinois, against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet for sexual abuse of boys in the 1970s and 1980s by priests and, in one case, the principal of a Catholic grade school. The complaints allege that the Diocese of Joliet allowed known or suspected predators and pedophiles to meet with young boys at remote or private locations outside the presence of other adults. The incidents in these complaints took place in private living quarters, at offsite “retreats,” and in the back row of a school classroom. Several of them involve priests plying minors with alcohol and then taking advantage of them. One involved an elaborate ruse in which the victim was persuaded to strip out of street clothes and don a loincloth so that the priest could “practice” administering funeral rites. The complaints allege that the Diocese of Joliet knew or should have known about the risk of abuse, or actual incidents of abuse, and yet engaged in a pattern and practice of hiding what it knew, and covertly transferring pedophile priests around the diocese and out of state—ultimately to protect the interests of the Diocese of Joliet instead of the interests of the children entrusted to it.

“I honestly, to the core of my soul, believe that had we had other attorneys, our outcome would not have been in our favor—not by any stretch of the imagination. In timing, monetarily, emotionally, we would not have had near the outcome.”

In March of 2013, the Diocese of Joliet released 16 personnel files of priests with substantiated allegations against them. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the files “contain more than 7,000 records detailing how the diocese purposely shielded priests, misled parishioners and left children unprotected for more than a half-century.” The listed priests include the following: Father Lawrence Gibbs, Father Frederick Lenczycki, Father Michael Gibbney, Father Carroll “Pud” Howlin, and Father James Nowak. Among the parishes where known pedophile priests served are the following:

  • Boniface Catholic Church (Monee)
  • Mary Nativity School (Joliet)
  • Francis of Assisi Catholic Church (Bolingbrook)
  • Charles Borremeo Seminary (Joliet)
  • Dominic Catholic Church (Bolingbrook)

The Irish Christian Brothers

The Congregation of Christian Brothers, also called the “Irish Christian Brothers,” is a religious order which operated three high schools in the Chicago area—Brother Rice High School, St. Laurence High School, and Leo High School. In April 2011, the Irish Christian Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. According to court documents, they filed for bankruptcy because of pending sexual abuse lawsuits.

More than 400 men and women filed claims with the bankruptcy court, alleging they were sexually or physically abused by an Irish Christian Brother or at a school run by the Irish Christian Brothers. Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. is proud to represent more than 30 victims of abuse—all victims of abuse at one of the three high schools in the Chicago area.

The Irish Christian Brothers have now agreed to pay $16.5 million to settle the claims of the 400 survivors of sexual and physical abuse. We believe the settlement is vindication for our clients and others, since for years the Irish Christian Brothers denied any wrongdoing. The settlement acknowledges their role in decades of children being sexual abused at Catholic schools across the country.

Although the settlement applies to claims against the Irish Christian Brothers of North America, it allows abuse survivors to pursue claims against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse. The men represented by Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. have filed claims in the Circuit Court of Cook County against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse, including the corporations which currently operate St. Laurence High School and Brother Rice High School, as well as the Congregation of Christian Brothers, which has its headquarters in Rome. The settlement does not affect those claims, or the rights of other abuse survivors to file similar claims against the same or other entities.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest, other clergy member, or an Irish Christian Brother, you deserve justice. For more information about our work on these types of cases, or to have a confidential discussion with one of our attorneys about your case, contact us at 312-553-4900.

For a free consultation, contact Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. today at 312-553-4900 or fill out our online form to have a lawyer contact you.

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