How Recent Changes to Louisiana Law Are Helping Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims Seek Justice

July 15, 2021 Announcements and Law Updates

Many turn to the church as a place of refuge where they can feel safe from harm, placing their trust in its clergy members. However, in recent years several brave survivors have come forward with accounts of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy who betrayed that trust, often preying upon the church’s most vulnerable members. These stories have sent shockwaves through the Roman Catholic Church, emboldening many other victims also to speak up and take a stand against their abusers. This has led to a steadily growing movement to hold those who committed these crimes—as well as the institutions that enabled and, in some instances, protected them—accountable. These cases have been documented across several Louisiana parishes, including Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Lafayette. If you are among those who experienced sexual abuse from a clergy member in Louisiana, you deserve to have a dedicated lawyer on your side.

The experienced attorneys at Mansfield Melancon Cranmer & Dick are committed to helping victims of clergy sexual abuse find justice. From the priest directly responsible to the leadership and institutions that may have contributed to the crime, we strive to hold each party legally accountable for their actions and inaction. Learn about these cases and how recently passed Louisiana legislation is giving clergy abuse victims a new opportunity to pursue civil damages in court.

Recent Changes in Louisiana Legislation Are Giving Survivors a New Chance at Justice

Victims of clergy sexual abuse deserve a dedicated lawyer.The tide is turning on how clergy sexual abuse cases are handled in America, with Louisiana recently joining several other states in passing legislation to support victims pursue civil lawsuits. On June 14, 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill to eliminate deadlines that previously restricted child sexual abuse victims from filing civil lawsuits after the age of 28. The bill, which unanimously passed both the Louisiana House of Representatives and Senate before being signed into law, removes the restrictions not only for filing lawsuits against direct abusers but also those who indirectly enabled the abuse.

Most importantly about this new law, those whose claims may have expired under the previous time-limit for filing a suit now have a new three-year window to make a claim. The three-year window started when Governor John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law on Jun 14, 2021. This is important because many survivors of sexual abuse may avoid coming forward due to several factors. These can include the potential stigma associated with the claims, fear of retaliation from the abuser, and fear of not being taken seriously, among others. However, as attitudes surrounding clergy sexual abuse have evolved, more survivors have gained the courage to finally tell their stories. 

Why This New Legislation Matters for Survivors

Victims of clergy sexual abuse who may have missed the deadline to file a civil suit in Louisiana can now seek the legal expertise of a lawyer to pursue their case in court. Those who remained silent for years after experiencing the physical, mental, and emotional trauma associated with abuse now have the opportunity to pursue restitution. With the signing of House Bill No. 492, abuse victims whose window to file claims previously expired now have an additional three years (from June 14, 2021 to June 14, 2024) to do so.

According to HB No. 492:

For a period of three years following the effective date of this Act, any party whose action under R.S. 9:2800.9 was barred by liberative prescription prior to the effective date of this Act shall be permitted to file an action under R.S. 9:2800.9 against a party whose alleged actions are the subject of R.S. 9:2800.9. It is the intent of the legislature to revive for a period of three years any claim against a party, authorized by R.S. 9:2800.9, that prescribed prior to the effective date of this Act.

Therefore, victims of clergy sexual abuse who regretted not going forward with a lawsuit after passing the previous deadline of 28 years of age may now move forward due to the new three-year “revival window.” This is an excellent development for victims who now feel ready to move forward with their legal claims. The average age at which child sex abuse victims report the crimes is 52, which is considerably older than the formerly imposed deadline of 28. The recently passed HB No. 492 could give generations of adults who were abused as children a chance to finally get the justice they deserve.

Sexual Abuse/Sexual Assault Numbers and Statistics

One of the issues that initially delayed and prevented clergy sexual abuse victims from hiring a lawyer and seeking justice was the fact that many people didn’t understand how real and widespread the problems were. However, several sexual assault and abuse statistics paint a disturbing picture that can no longer be ignored.

  • According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse at some point during childhood.
  • As of 2019, nearly 1,700 priests and clergy who the Roman Catholic Church considered credibly accused of child sexual abuse were living unsupervised with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement. This effectively put them in positions where they could commit the same crimes again.
  • A study of 38,156 Catholic clergy personnel files from 1946 to 2014 found that 3,677 victims of sexual abuse could be linked to 1,670 clergy members accused of sexually abusing minors.
    • 62.8% of the victims were male
    • 66.7% were under 14 years old when the abuse was perpetrated
    • “Hands-on” abuses involving bodily contact occurred in more that 80% of documented cases

In addition to this shocking data, within the last few years several Roman Catholic dioceses in Louisiana have released information pertaining to credibly accused clergy members. 

Archdiocese of New Orleans

In 2018, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released the names of clergy members who had been accused of sexually abusing minors. The list named clergy who served dating back to 1950. A total of 57 accused priests were listed in the report.

Diocese of Baton Rouge

In 2019, the Diocese of Baton Rouge released a similar report. This included the names of 37 priests who had been accused of sexual abuse toward minors and vulnerable adults. The list reviewed credible accusations dating back to the foundation of the diocese in 1961.

Diocese of Lafayette

The Diocese of Lafayette was the last diocese in Louisiana to release a list of accused clergy. Although former Bishop Michael Jarrell first acknowledged the existence of an internal list in 2004, it was not released to the public until April 12, 2019. This report included not only the names of 33 priests but also four deacons.

Are You a Survivor of Clergy Sexual Abuse in Need of a Lawyer?

The pain of what clergy abuse survivors experienced, and continue to experience, deserves to be brought to light. The heinous crimes perpetrated against clergy abuse victims have led to years of suffering, shame, and guilt, even driving some to suicide. But today, victims have an opportunity to finally seek justice in Louisiana courts. 

If you were a victim of clergy sexual abuse as a minor, an experienced lawyer can help you take a stand against your abuser and their enablers. The attorneys of Mansfield Melancon Cranmer & Dick understand the sensitive nature of these cases, and they are ready to fight for you. Call 888-601-0127 or contact us online for a confidential consultation. So many victims were forced into silence for years. It’s time for their voices, and their stories, to be heard.