• Key point. A church may be legally responsible for a pastor's acts of child molestation on the basis of a breach of a "fiduciary duty," negligent hiring and supervision, and "ratification" of the pastor's conduct as a result of its failure to investigate and address known irregularities.
• Key point. Church leaders that ignore credible evidence of misconduct by a minister or lay worker may be deemed to have "ratified" future similar acts of misconduct by the same person. As a result, it is imperative that church leaders not ignore such incidents.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a church whose pastor molested a young boy could be sued on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty, outrageous conduct, negligent hiring and supervision of the pastor, and ratification of the pastor's conduct. The court's ruling addressed a number of issues that will be helpful to church leaders in reducing the risk of such incidents, and in reducing the potential for church liability. The circumstances of this case are tragic and unusual. A 7—year—old boy (the "victim"), who was experiencing emotional trauma, was encouraged by his pastor to enter into a counseling relationship with him. The boy's mother approved, and the counseling sessions lasted for a number of years. From the very first counseling session the victim claimed that the pastor engaged in sexual contact with him, including having him sit on the pastor's lap while the pastor massaged his thighs and genitals. While these "massages" were occurring the pastor would tell the victim that "your father loves you, your mother loves you, God loves you, and I love you." Two other adult males claimed that the pastor had engaged in similar behavior with them when they were minors, including a physical inspection of their genitals to see if they had been "properly circumcised." The parents of two other boys complained to the church board about the pastor's counseling methods, and in particular his practice of inspecting genitals to check for proper circumcision. Nearly a year later the board responded by directing the pastor to discontinue his counseling of minors. A few months later the pastor was dismissed.