The Problem of False Claims of Clergy Sexual Abuse

By Price, David R.; McDonald, James J., Jr. | Risk Management, January 2003 | Go to article overview

The Problem of False Claims of Clergy Sexual Abuse


Price, David R., McDonald, James J., Jr., Risk Management


The Catholic Church has experienced an epidemic of sexual misconduct allegations and lawsuits in the United States. In some cases, evidence that the church knew of sexual misconduct and had effectively concealed them has created a dire social and legal predicament. Although U.S. Catholic bishops have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for its priests and ministers, the church still faces a long and costly road of litigation that any organization in which adults supervise children--especially religious institutions--would do well to learn from.

Such incidents of abuse claims may result not only in criminal charges, but in costly civil actions as well. As Jason Berry reports in his book, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children, the Catholic Church alone has paid out over $400 million in clergy sexual abuse settlements and this total is expected to reach at least $1 billion before the spate of claims tapers off.

Cases of sexual abuse against children are both tragic and inexcusable. But as with any situation in which there are numerous claims of sexual abuse against a single defendant, some of those claims will be false. With grave sensitivity, it is the risk manager's duty to evaluate claims in light of this fact.

The Problem of False Claims

In 1993, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then archbishop of Chicago, was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Cincinnati by a former seminarian who alleged he was the victim of sexual abuse by Bernardin and another priest when Bernardin was archbishop of Cincinnati. The plaintiff, who at the time of the suit was dying of AIDS, had apparently recovered a "memory" of the abuse while undergoing hypnosis performed by an unlicensed hypnotist. The lawsuit against Bernardin was widely publicized, but three months later, the plaintiff dropped the lawsuit and recanted his allegations against Bernardin.

In 2002, an accusation of abuse against Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles generated a huge media stir, if not an actual lawsuit. A woman alleged that Mahony sexually abused her in 1970 when she was a student at a Catholic high school in Fresno, California. She claimed she was knocked unconscious during a fight with other students and when she awoke her underwear was missing and Mahony was standing nearby. The Los Angeles Times reported that this woman said she was motivated to press forward with her charges thirty-two years later because the state was cutting her disability payments and she needed "a cash settlement from the Church." The woman admitted to having been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and she told the Los Angeles Times nearly everyone she had encountered in her life, including her parents, other family members, classmates and coworkers, had molested, abused or emotionally mistreated her. The Fresno Bee reported that the woman admitted she did not know if she was molested or even touched by Mahony. "All I said was that when I opened my eyes, some of my clothes were gone and he was the only one around. I was unconscious. I don't know if he molested me, but he could have," the woman told the paper. Mahony yeas later cleared.

Why False Claims Are Made

The reasons behind a false claim are varied. Some claims may be intentionally fabricated to obtain a monetary award or to gain revenge, but this is uncommon. More likely, a false claim could be the result of a psychological illness. For example, the false accuser could suffer from an erotomanic delusion in which the individual believes that he or she is in love with another (such as the alleged abuser). Or, a false claim could stem from a persecutory delusion in which a person feels conspired against, harassed or abused.

Personality disorders are one source of psychological illness that may cause a person to make a false accusation. Exhibited by late adolescence or early adulthood these disorders influence the way individuals perceive, interact and respond to their environment.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Problem of False Claims of Clergy Sexual Abuse
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.