Clergy abuse is the sexual assault of a member of a Church or congregation by a member of the clergy.  Clergy abuse is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. It can and does occur in other religious institutions as well.  We hear most often about the abuses within the Catholic Church because they are more widely reported.  However, there are also confirmed reports of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other religious institutions. 

Clergy abuse is a despicable crime that can not only cause deep emotional and physical scars, but it can cause spiritual wounds that rob the parishioner of their faith and the other comforts of their church community. If you or a loved one is a survivor of clergy abuse, please contact attorney Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller for a free, 100% confidential consultation.  

Who is Considered Clergy?

Members of the clergy can include, but are not limited to: 

  • Bishops 
  • Cardinals
  • Priests 
  • Pastors
  • Deacons
  • Elders 
  • Church camp staff
  • Church teaching staff
  • Volunteer church leadership

Consent is not a defense to clergy abuse.  Like with a doctor-patient, teacher-student relationship, the clergy member is in a position of power over their parishioner and is strictly precluded from having sexual relations with him or her.  

What are Examples of Clergy Abuse?

Clergy abuse can take many forms including: 

  • Sexual harassment
  • Inappropriate words, implications or comments
  • Touching or kissing without consent 
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor (regardless of consent)
  • Rape 
  • Sodomy 
  • Possession of child pornography 
  • Other forms of sexual misconduct

A person can be sexually assaulted once, or the assaults may turn into systematic and regular sexual abuse over time. Clergy abuse can occur between men, women and children.  All parishioners are susceptible to being abused, but our experience has shown us that the most vulnerable and isolated members of the church are likely to be targeted. Coming forward and sharing your story of clergy abuse can hold both your abuser and the church accountable, and may give other clergy abuse survivors the courage to step forward as well.  

Can I Be Compensated for the Clergy Abuse that Occurred?

Yes.  If you are within the statute of limitations, a lawsuit could result in a financial recovery for the harms and losses you suffered. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office has been actively engaged in investing all Michigan Catholic Diocese to accumulate the names of those priests that are known to or have been alleged to have sexually abused their parishioners. Currently, over 50 priests since the 1950’s have been named. We expect that the Attorney General will continue to release information as it becomes available.  

In the meantime, efforts are underway in the Michigan Legislature to expand the statute of limitations and create a limited revival window which would let those survivors abused even 40+ years ago bring a cause of action. If you believe your child or someone you know has been abused by a member of the clergy, notify the police right away. Then, contact a lawyer. Speaking to experienced sexual abuse attorney Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller could help you learn your rights and options at no cost or obligation.  She will listen to your story and walk you through the steps towards obtaining justice.

Sommers Schwartz

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Sommers Schwartz



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