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Ministers' and Churches' Liability for Sexual Misconduct

Who can be found liable for a minister's misconduct?

Key point. Ministers who engage in sexual contacts with adults may be legally responsible for their behavior on a number of grounds, including breach of a fiduciary duty and outrageous conduct. In addition, their employing church may be responsible for their behavior on the basis of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, outrageous conduct, and ratification. The courts can resolve such claims so long as they can do so without inquiring into religious doctrine.

A Colorado court ruled that a minister, his church, and a denominational agency could be sued by a woman with whom the minister had sexual contacts. A woman (the victim) attended a church for a few years, and began to volunteer her services for a variety of activities including the remodeling of a classroom. She engaged in these volunteer services on the recommendation of a therapist who suggested that she work in a "safe environment" ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • March 3, 1997

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