Recently, two Catholic dioceses in Virginia publicly named 58 priests as having been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. The abuse went on for decades and involves an unknown number of innocent victims. This startling and seemingly transparent disclosure of the identity of pedophiles in the clergy has been viewed by many as an attempt at “damage control” by the Church. Sadly, Virginia is just the latest in a string of states where the pattern of abuse, deceit, and enabling of horrific conduct in the Catholic Church has come to light.
The media’s exploration of decades of widespread abuse within the Catholic Church has shone a light on a shameful epidemic and staggering betrayal of trust. Intense, investigative journalism has made us all more aware of the clergy abuse epidemic and encouraged the Church’s recent acknowledgment of the credibility of survivors’ claims. Today, it is much more likely that survivors of abuse will be believed when they bravely tell their stories.
However, an acknowledgment of past abuse is not enough. We believe that survivors deserve justice and accountability and future generations must be protected.
Reporting Sexual Abuse Can Prevent Further Abuse and Hold Institutions Accountable
In addition to pressing criminal charges, survivors of childhood sexual abuse can demand damages from the priests who abused them and the institutions that enabled the abuse. While we encourage all survivors to cooperate fully with law enforcement and prosecutors, and believe that anyone found guilty should face jail time, a civil lawsuit or remedy can help survivors get the care they need and the closure they deserve.
Civil remedies can do more than provide compensation for the physical and emotional trauma survivors endure. When survivors bravely come forward, they play a part in protecting the children of today and tomorrow from the predatory behavior of abusive priests. If the Church suffers the consequences of its pattern of wrongdoing, it may finally put into place mechanisms that protect innocent people from horrific abuse.
States Are Reevaluating the Filing Deadlines for Sexual Abuse Claims
Because most survivors endured childhood sexual abuse years or even decades ago, many of them believe that it is too late to pursue a claim against the Church today. This is not necessarily true.
Virginia and all other states have strict filing deadlines, or statutes of limitation, that only give you a relatively short time to file a lawsuit after an injury. Typically, you must file a Virginia personal injury case within two years of the harmful act. If you miss this deadline, you may lose your right to compensation and damages.
However, a relatively recent change in Virginia law extends the period of time that sexual abuse survivors have to bring a lawsuit. Today, such cases can be filed decades after the abuse took place.
Under Virginia Code Section 8.01-243(D), there are now two potential statutes of limitations that apply to childhood sexual abuse claims. Most survivors of childhood sexual abuse must file civil lawsuits against their abusers and institutions no more than 20 years after their cause of action accrues. Typically, this means that you must file your case within 20 years of your 18th birthday, or before you turn 38 years old.
Alternatively, the statute of limitations may not run until two years after “the fact of the injury and its causal connection to the sexual abuse is first communicated to the person by a licensed physician, psychologist, or clinical psychologist.” It is important to note that only claims against individuals, such as priests, are protected by the latter limitations period. It does not apply to organizations or entities, such as churches.
Even if a survivor believes that their claim may be technically barred by the Virginia statute of limitations, it is still worthwhile pursuing a civil remedy for damages caused by sexual abuse. For one thing, they may have claims against wrongdoers in different states that have a much longer and forgiving limitations period than Virginia.
Virginia Survivors May Have Sexual Abuse Claims in Other States
One of the sad and appalling features of this scandal is the active cover-up and enabling of abuse by the Catholic Church. Abusive priests were often moved from diocese to diocese, sometimes from one state to another, by bishops who concealed their crimes and protected the parishes from scrutiny. This outrageous conduct means that the wrongdoing often crossed state lines. For this reason, survivors in Virginia may have liability claims against an out-of-state bishop or diocese that transferred a known pedophile to our state.
Throughout the country, state laws are evolving as lawmakers try to provide a path to justice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. For example, on February 14, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Child Victims Act into law. Under the new law, survivors now have until age 55 to file civil lawsuits against their abusers in New York. They also may seek criminal charges until age 28. The law also provides victims a one-time, one-year “lookback” window to revive cases that were time-barred under the current law.
Massachusetts gives victims up to 35 years to file suit. Ohio and Pennsylvania give victims until age 30. If you or a loved one is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it is worth exploring your legal rights regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
Survivors Can Confidentially Report Childhood Sexual Abuse
There are now a variety of confidential tip and helplines available to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Survivors should visit the website www.virginiaclergyhotline.com for information and a form that sends information to the Virginia State Police. When you submit information, you may choose to provide your name or remain anonymous.
There is also a toll-free Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline, (833) 454-9064, available 24/7, and staffed by state police trained to work with abuse survivors. You may also choose to report abuse directly to law enforcement, including Child Protective Services at (800) 552-7096.
Arlington and Richmond’s Catholic Dioceses Acknowledge Widespread Abuse
After years of secrecy, two Virginia dioceses formally identified 58 priests that, based on credible evidence, sexually abused members of their churches. While these lists may not include every potential abuser, it is a step in the right direction.
Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Identified Abusers
The Arlington diocese identified 16 priests with credible accusations dating back to 1974. Its website contains information regarding the current status of the individuals listed.
- Robert C. Brooks
- Christopher M. Buckner
- Curtis L. Clark
- William J. Erbacher
- Andrew W. Krafcik
- John J. Munley
- Tran Dinh Nhi
- William T. Reinecke
- Stephen A. Roszel
- Scott A. Asalone, O.F.M.
- Richard P. Baird, C.PP.S.
- Harris M. Findlay
- Paul J. Kamerdze
- Robert L. Nudd
- John W. Rea
- Austin L. Ryder
Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s Identified Abusers
The Richmond diocese identified 42 priests who have “a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a minor.” Its website also contains additional details regarding the allegations, status, frequently asked questions, and a glossary of terms.
- Frederick James Beardsley
- John Paul Blankenship
- John Raymond Bostwick
- Francis C. Bourbon
- Martin D. Brady
- Gordian Burkhardt
- John Robert Butler
- Carroll T. Dozier
- Richard Earley
- Frederick George
- George George
- Richard Bernard Goff
- Julian B. Goodman
- John Beaman Hesch
- Philip J. Higgins
- John E. Leonard
- Roland Edmund Leveille
- Joseph B. Majewski
- James Henry McConnell
- Roland Melody
- Dennis Paul Murphy
- Joseph Thang Xuan Pham
- Francis Philben
- James Lee Rizer
- Oscar Alexander “Paul” Rodriguez
- Steve R. Rule
- Paul David Ryan
- Dwight Edward Shrader
- Oliver Joseph Smalls
- Eugene John Teslovic
Do You Have Questions About Your Legal Rights?
At Phelan Petty, we support survivors of childhood sexual abuse and believe that the responsible parties should be held fully accountable. We also understand that discussing abuse and trauma is emotionally difficult. That’s why we give our clients the space, respect, and time they deserve. Then, we use all of our resources and knowledge to fight for them.
If you would like more information about your possible legal rights, please call our office at (804) 980-7100 for a confidential, no-cost consultation with one of our attorneys. You can also complete our online contact form.
Lavoie, D. (2019, February 13). Virginia Catholic dioceses list 58 clergy with sex abuse allegations. Newsleader.com. Retrieved from https://www.newsleader.com/story/news/local/2019/02/13/virginia-catholic-dioceses-list-58-clergy-sex-abuse-allegations-richmond-arlington/2865479002/
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.