Are You Able to Sue a Church for Sexual Abuse?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

For survivors of sexual abuse, it can be hard to speak out. Abuse at the hands of a member of your church may be hard to grapple with. For many, churches are a place of comfort and happiness. Once that security’s taken away, survivors may feel like it’s impossible to sue their church for sexual abuse. But, there are ways to hold a church responsible for its actions and negligence.

Suing a church for sexual abuse is possible in many cases. You may be able to take legal action against the institution as well as the individual offender. Some institutions are liable for the actions of their employees or representatives to the same degree that the individual is. Both are offenders, and you may be able to sue both for damages. Churches found to be negligent or ignorant of sexual abuse can also be held responsible. If church leaders know about abuse or suspect it and don’t help, they are liable for the abuse.

The Law Office of Andrew Shubin understands how hard it may be for survivors of sexual abuse to take legal action against their church. Our compassionate attorneys offer a free and confidential consultation to learn about your experience and find a way to help. Call our attorneys today at (814) 826-3586 to learn about your options.

How Are You Able to Sue a Church for Sexual Abuse?

Depending on your state’s statutes, you may be able to file more than one claim against the church responsible for your sexual abuse. In some states, institutions responsible for the welfare and safety of children are liable if an employee endangers or abuses the children there. Most states also require organizations of any kind, including churches, to responsibly hire and fire their employees. If a church knew children might become endangered if a particular priest was hired, the church would be liable for that person’s behavior.

Regardless of whether it knew, a church, like any other institution, is responsible for keeping track of its employees’ conduct. If you told leadership about the abuse you were experiencing and nothing was done to help you, your church could again be liable for the abuse you continued to experience. Bottom line, if your church knew about an abuser or failed to know because of negligence, you may be able to sue for damages. Generally, in a civil case of this type, you’ll need to provide some evidence of the abuse and show that it was reported in some way to church leaders who failed to act.

Suing your church may feel wrong or scary, but it’s the right thing to do if it allowed you to be sexually abused. Legally, churches are held to a standard of protecting children. If a church fails to keep its congregation safe from itself, it is responsible.

Can Adults and Minors Sue a Church for Sexual Abuse?

Whether you experienced abuse as a minor or adult, you can still sue the church responsible for your abuse. There are some differences in the statute of limitations for civil suits, however. These statutes of limitations vary from state to state, so make sure your state allows ample time to file.

In Pennsylvania, for example, adults who were sexually abused as children have until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit against the church if the abuse happened before 2019. In 2019, the state law changed, extending the statute of limitations for minor victims whose abuse happened after 2019 to their 55th birthday. Not only does the statute of limitations vary from state to state, but it can change periodically within a state. It’s important to know the statute of limitations in your state if you want to file a lawsuit. If your child has suffered abuse and you, as their parent, want to sue on their behalf, the statute of limitations would not stall your case if they are still a minor.

For those abused by church members in their adulthood, the statute of limitations to sue is shorter. In Pennsylvania, for example, an adult victim above 24 years of age has two years after the last date of injury to file a lawsuit for sexual abuse damages. A person who is 18 or less than 24 years of age at the time of abuse has until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit. So, while adults and minors can sue a church for sexual abuse, the statute of limitations is different.

Civil Suits vs. Criminal Charges Against a Church for Sexual Abuse

While suing the church responsible for the sexual abuse you experienced is important, there is another option for survivors. In addition to suing for damages, survivors may be able to press criminal charges against the church leadership. The leadership of your church could stand trial for their negligence. While that may be scary for survivors of sexual abuse, pressing criminal charges against your church is an option in addition to filing a civil lawsuit.

The statute of limitations changes from state to state but is generally long for survivors of sexual abuse. If you want to press criminal charges against the church responsible for abusing you, make sure to know your state’s statute of limitations.

In civil suits, plaintiffs may be awarded financial compensation for damages. In criminal suits, defendants may be sentenced to time in prison if found guilty. Both routes require different levels of evidence and time. Though it may feel overwhelming, speaking with an experienced attorney will help you understand your options.

Call Our Attorneys for Help

The Law Office of Andrew Shubin offers free and confidential consultations. If you want to discuss your options for filing suit against a church for sexual abuse, call us today at (814) 826-3586.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.