• Key point. Unsupervised contacts between male church workers and adolescent females may lead to inappropriate sexual behavior, or to false allegations of inappropriate conduct. In either case, the church worker is exposing himself and his church to legal risk.
A Louisiana court found a pastor guilty of sexually molesting an adolescent girl. The case contains some important lessons for church leaders. A pastor traveled to Louisiana in 1980 to conduct a revival at a local church. Over the next few years, he returned on a number of occasions to conduct services at the church. The church asked him to become their pastor when their former pastor died. Because the church did not have funds to pay the pastor a salary, he moved into the home of one of the families who attended the church. He had his own room at the family's home, he was paid to transport the children back and forth to school while their parents worked, and he was given authority over various aspects of the household, including financial matters and discipline of the children. One of the family's children (the "victim") later testified that the pastor began kissing her on the mouth and touching her through her underwear when she was about ten years old. This behavior continued for the next few years in various places, including the pastor's car, the church study, and his room in the house where they lived. When the victim was about 14 years of age, the pastor attempted further sexual activity with the girl. At that time, he had begun to subsidize his income by working for an insurance company. He took the victim and her brother with him to a motel to "check out" a room to be used for a recruitment meeting. The victim's brother was left downstairs while the pastor took the victim upstairs to a room, pushed the victim onto the bed, and tried to have intercourse with her, while she pleaded with him to stop. The pastor did not stop until his third unsuccessful attempt at intercourse with the child. A year later, the victim was riding with the pastor to give him directions to the home of a woman she knew. The pastor remarked that the victim was now fifteen years old, the age at which he had engaged in intercourse for the first time. He told her he wanted to have sex with her to remind him of his first time. He then pulled off the road and had intercourse with her. The pastor initiated some sort of sexual activity almost daily from this point onward. He told the victim to keep all these activities just between them. He further told her there was nothing wrong with what they were doing because he was a pastor and would not do anything wrong. When she was 17 years old, the victim began taking a sex education course at the parochial school she attended. She was taught that this sexual behavior outside of marriage was sinful. She confronted the pastor with questions about their sexual activity. He explained that the church which ran her school "worshipped a false god." He further told her that when she became eighteen years old they would be married, which would make everything right. He and the victim stopped having sexual contact at this point. Meanwhile, the victim's parents were having marital problems. They separated and eventually divorced. The pastor later admitted to having had an affair with the victim's mother, which resulted in the birth of a child.