Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers - Part 2
A Connecticut court ruled that a national church could be liable for the sexual misconduct of an ordained minister.
Key point 10-12. Churches face a number of legal risks when they offer counseling services by ministers or laypersons. These include negligent selection, retention, or supervision of a counselor who engages in sexual misconduct or negligent counseling. A church also may be vicariously liable for a counselor's failure to report child abuse, breach of confidentiality, and breach of a fiduciary relationship.
Key point. Churches and denominational agencies may be legally responsible for injuries resulting from the sexual misconduct of ministers (or lay employees or volunteers) if they knew of prior acts of sexual misconduct and failed to adequately restrict or monitor the individual's actions. Seduction of Counselees and Church Members

A Connecticut court ruled that a national church could be liable for the sexual misconduct of an ordained minister on the basis of intentional infliction of emotional distress and recklessness. A woman ("Anne") was employed by a local church affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC or "national church"). The church's senior minister ("Pastor Tim") provided counseling services to Anne in his capacity as her minister, and engaged in an improper sexual relationship with her in violation of the church's sexual harassment policy. This relationship took place during working hours while Anne was under Pastor Tim's supervision, and included a variety of sexual activities. Pastor Tim also employed various means of controlling the Anne, causing and coercing her to comply with his sexual demands and to continue engaging in improper sexual activities. These events caused Anne to obtain psychological counseling and treatment and to resign her employment. Anne later sued Pastor Tim, her church, and regional and national denominational agencies as a result of injuries she allegedly suffered. Anne's lawsuit alleged that the UCC supervised Pastor Tim's appointment, training, qualifications and moral fitness to serve as a minister, and provided counseling and psychiatric care for persons serving in such positions. She also alleged that the UCC knew that Pastor Tim had an improper sexual relationship with a female member of another church in a previous pastoral assignment, and knew that he had been terminated from that prior position and was required to undergo training and psychological treatment before he could accept his current position. Anne alleged that the church defendants were responsible for her injuries on the basis of several theories, including emotional distress and recklessness.

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Posted: July 2, 2001
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