• Key point. Churches may reduce their risk of liability by responding to allegations of child abuse on church premises in a way that is viewed as appropriate and reasonable by the victim and the victim's family.
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a church counselor could be criminally prosecuted for child molestation despite the fact that the prosecution was based in part on a pastor's unauthorized disclosure of the incident to civil authorities. The court rejected the counselor's argument that the abuse would never have come to the attention of the prosecutor had it not been for the pastor's unauthorized disclosure. The court noted that the victim's parents were so dissatisfied with the church's response to the incident that they would have reported it to the civil authorities even if the pastor had not. The case contains some important lessons for all church leaders.
Two minor girls arrived at their church one evening for a youth activity. They came early to help prepare for the event. An adult counselor to the youth group was already present when the two girls arrived. One of the girls (the "victim") was sexually assaulted by the counselor when he asked her to accompany him to the church basement to look for some sound equipment. Later that evening the victim reported the incident to the church's assistant pastor. The counselor insisted that the incident was a superficial incident of fondling that lasted for only ten seconds, and had been initiated by the victim. A jury did not buy this account, and found the counselor guilty of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.