What Is Clergy Sexual Misconduct and How Does It Happen in Colorado?

Criminal Law
What Is Clergy Sexual Misconduct and How Does It Happen in Colorado?

Members of the clergy have high obligations to their communities. Unfortunately, it happens too often that instead of upholding this responsibility, clergy members misuse their position. Religious leaders have the trust of many people, and some take advantage of that trust and abuse and sexually assault members of their congregation and others in the community.

Colorado has seen several of these cases. The impact on victims of sexual assault can be devastating regardless of the circumstances. Those who have suffered these crimes from clergy members have the legal right to pursue justice.

What Is Clergy Sexual Misconduct and Abuse?

Clergy sexual abuse and misconduct is when religious leaders use their unique personal position and leadership power to exploit, harm, manipulate, or sexually abuse their congregation. This frequently harms children and adults dealing with mental health issues, all of whom turn to clergy members looking for help from someone they trust.

It is illegal for clergy members to engage in sexual behavior and misconduct with the people they are meant to protect and help. The behavior of these leaders can be physical, emotional, or verbal. The religious leader’s position of influence makes it difficult for the person to refuse or turn down these actions.

Penalties in Colorado for Clergy Sexual Abuse

Sexual misconduct is illegal for any member of the clergy, regardless of their exact position in their religious institution. Any sexual misconduct of the clergy is considered part of the Colorado law, which defines the crime of an assault of a minor by a person put into a position of trust. This crime may be charged as either a Class 4 or Class 3 felony in Colorado:

  • Class 4 felony. Two to six years in prison and/or $2,000 to $500,000 in fines, as well as ten years to life under Colorado’s Sex Offender Intensive Supervision Program (SOISP)
  • Class 3 felony. Four to 12 years in prison and/or $3,000 to $750,000 in fines and 20 years to life under SOISP

Clergy abuse can happen in any faith, denomination, and religion.

Understanding the Rights of Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Victims can file both civil and criminal claims against the person and institution who abused them. A criminal claim will see the abuser pay fines and serve jail or prison time. Unfortunately, even though the victim has some peace knowing this, they still have to deal with any medical costs and lasting emotional trauma from their abuse.

The victims and survivors of these devastating and traumatic acts have the legal right to compensation for their pain, suffering, and other emotional damages. In some situations, they may also get compensation for medical costs. By filing a civil claim, individuals and their families can get justice and get much-needed support.

The victims can also legally file a claim against the religious organization or institution where the abuser was a part of the clergy.

The Statute of Limitations for Claims by Minors

Before 2022, a minor who suffered sexual abuse, including by a clergyman, had a deadline of six years after they turned 18 to bring a civil claim against their abuser. As of January 1, 2022, this statute was removed. Now, there is no time limit or deadline to bring forward civil claims of sexual abuse against a minor.

Damages Available in a Clergy Sexual Abuse Claim

A civil claim against the abuser and the religious institution can bring the victim and their family some financial assistance as they recover. Even if the abuse happened years ago, many people need to process what they’re been through. Financial compensation can cover economic and non-economic damages. This includes:

  • Medical costs, both past and future, including therapy, medications, counseling, and other medical costs necessary because of abuse.
  • Pain and suffering, including psychological and physical pain and distress as a result of the traumatic experience.
  • Emotional distress and loss of enjoyment.
  • Punitive damages, made to punish the person at fault in egregious circumstances.

The most effective way for victims to calculate and advocate for the damages that they deserve is by working with an experienced attorney.


Q: What Does Clergy Sexual Misconduct Mean?

A: Clergy sexual misconduct occurs when a person of any position in the clergy with religious authority willfully uses their position of power and close personal relationship to harass, manipulate, exploit, or sexually abuse a member of their congregation. It is illegal for a religious leader in the clergy to do so, and they can be charged with a felony. Victims of their abuse can hold their abuser and the religious institution liable for their actions.

Q: What Are the Long-Term Effects of Clergy Abuse?

A: Victims of any form of sexual abuse, including clergy abuse, face emotional and psychological trauma. They may deal with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use disorders, among other mental health conditions. Many also have difficulty forming lasting relationships or trusting other adults. Victims of traumatic experiences must have the resources to get the care they need.

Q: How Many Priests Have Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct?

A: The number of allegations has decreased in the last couple of decades due to higher reporting. Allegations were more significant during the mid to late 1900s. The John Jay 2004 report, though considered inaccurate by some, covers the period from 1950 to 2002 and looked at abuse allegations in Catholic districts in the United States. The report determined that 10,667 individuals made allegations of sexual abuse against 4,392 members of the clergy. During this period, about 110,000 ordained clergy members served, making this about 4% of the clergy.

Q: What Are Clergy Abuse Settlements?

A: The settlement for clergy abuse depends on several factors, including the duration of abuse, the severity, other specifics about the situation, and the cost of medical bills, therapy, and other treatment. Settlements tend to be around $250,000 to $400,000 but could be much higher in severe circumstances.

Cheney Galluzzi & Howard Want to Protect Your Rights

If you have suffered through a devastating experience like clergy sexual abuse, you deserve justice and recompense for that. Contact Cheney Galluzzi & Howard today to see how our qualified attorneys can help you with your claim.

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Kevin Cheney

Attorney Kevin Cheney, an experienced personal injury lawyer based in Denver, Colorado, serves as the Managing Partner at Cheney Galluzzi & Howard, LLC. He specializes in personal injury and auto accident cases. His approach combines deep legal knowledge with a commitment to client advocacy. Education: Graduated from the University of Colorado School of Law, demonstrating early legal prowess and a passion for justice. Professional Associations: Active member of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association and the Colorado Bar Association, contributing significantly to legislative and community initiatives. Experience: Extensive experience in handling complex personal injury cases, with a track record of securing substantial compensations for clients.

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