• Key point. Several courts have concluded that churches cannot be legally responsible for a minister's sexual misconduct, since allowing them to be sued for failing to exercise sufficient care in the selection, training, or supervision of clergy would violate the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom.
• Key point. Several courts have concluded that churches cannot be legally responsible on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty for a minister's sexual misconduct, since recognizing such a theory of liability would require a civil court to consider church doctrine and polity.
A Florida court ruled that it was barred by the first amendment from resolving a woman's lawsuit claiming that she had been the victim of a priest's sexual misconduct. A woman sought out a priest for marital counseling, and alleged that the priest engaged in sexual contacts with her. The woman sued her church and diocese, claiming that they were aware of prior incidents involving sexual misconduct during counseling by the same priest. Despite this knowledge, nothing was done to address the problem. She claimed that the priest breached a fiduciary duty by becoming romantically involved with her; that the church and diocese had a fiduciary relationship with her (because she reported the priest's misconduct to them) that was breached; and, that the church and diocese engaged in negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of the priest. The church and diocese asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit against them on the ground that a resolution of the woman's claims would result in an "excessive entanglement" of the court with religious beliefs in violation of the first amendment. The court agreed with the church and diocese, and dismissed the lawsuit against them. The woman appealed. The appeals court's resolution of the woman's claims is addressed below.