• Key point. Some courts refuse to hold churches liable for the sexual misconduct of clergy on the basis of respondeat superior, breach of fiduciary duty, or negligence.
A Missouri court ruled that a Catholic archdiocese could not be sued as a result of the molestation of a minor by a priest. A 34—year—old man sued a priest and archdiocese, claiming that the priest had molested him when he was 13 years of age while attending a Catholic parochial school. The victim claimed to have suffered numerous injuries as a result of the priest's acts, including severe emotional distress, lost earnings, sexual addiction and dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. When the victim was 32, he unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide and was hospitalized. During his hospitalization, he claimed that he discovered that his emotional problems were the result of the sexual abuse he suffered when he was 13. The victim's lawsuit alleged that the archdiocese was responsible for his injuries on the following grounds: respondeat superior, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent hiring and supervision of the priest. A trial court dismissed all claims against the archdiocese, and the victim appealed. A state appeals court upheld the trial court's decision. It conceded that the statute of limitations may bar the victim's lawsuit, but it concluded that the victim had alleged sufficient facts as to when he could have discovered the connection between the abuse and his emotional difficulties to avoid a dismissal of his lawsuit on this ground. However, the court concluded that the lawsuit had to be dismissed since the victim's claims against the archdiocese were without any support.