• Key point. A religious denomination is not necessarily legally responsible for the acts of sexual misconduct that occur in affiliated churches.
• Key point. Several courts have concluded that churches and denominational agencies cannot be legally responsible for a minister's sexual misconduct, since allowing such organizations to be sued for failing to exercise sufficient care in the selection, training, or supervision of its ministers would violate the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom.
• Key point. Most courts have rejected "breach of a fiduciary duty" as a basis for holding a church or denominational agency liable for a minister's sexual misconduct.
• Key point. Most courts have rejected "agency" as a basis for holding a church or denominational agency liable for a minister's sexual misconduct.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a diocese could not be liable for the sexual misconduct of a priest. A Catholic priest served as associate pastor of a church. He invited a young boy and one of the boy's friends to spend the night and watch movies in the church parsonage. One of the boys later alleged that the priest sexually molested him. When the boy's parents learned of the allegations, they immediately notified the diocese. Officials of the Diocese allegedly told them that "this happens to young men all the time" and that their son "would get over it." Diocese employees urged the parents to meet with the priest to resolve the situation. After hearing of similar incidents between the priest and other young boys, the parents "expressed their concerns to the diocese." They were told that the incident with their son was "an innocent pat on the butt" and that they should "forgive and forget" and get on with their lives. According to the parents, the diocese continued to ignore them until the priest eventually was removed from the diocese. The parents sued the diocese, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, conspiracy, agency, negligent hiring, negligent ordination, negligent retention, negligent failure to supervise, intentional failure to supervise, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and independent negligence of the diocese. The trial court dismissed all claims against the diocese for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and because such claims … infringe upon its rights provided by the first amendment to the United States Constitution." The parents appealed. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the trial court's dismissal of all claims against the diocese. Its reasoning is summarized below.