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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Several courts have refused to hold churches and denominational agencies liable on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty for the sexual misconduct of a minister.

Key point 10-13.2. Several courts have refused to hold churches and denominational agencies liable on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty for the sexual misconduct of a minister. In some cases, this result is based on First Amendment considerations.

* A Connecticut court ruled that a priest and archdiocese were not liable on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty for the priest's sexual relationship with an adult woman since no fiduciary duty arose under the circumstances. A 40-year-old woman (the "plaintiff") with a long history of psychiatric and emotional problems sought out the "advice, counsel and friendship" of a priest. At the time, the priest was serving as an associate priest at a local church and was also an employee of the archdiocese. The plaintiff did not engage in formal counseling with the priest; rather, their relationship involved mainly recreational activities such as home visits, lunch and dinner dates, shopping trips, walks on the beach and trips to see movies. According to the plaintiff, the priest provided her emotional, spiritual and friendly support and that her "whole relationship" with him was one of counseling. At some point during their association, the priest became aware of her emotional problems and, nevertheless, engaged in a sexual relationship with her. The plaintiff alleged that she eventually ended the sexual aspect of their relationship after which the priest terminated all involvement with her.

The plaintiff sued the priest claiming that a fiduciary duty arose by virtue of the priest-parishioner relationship, and the priest breached this duty when, despite knowledge of her emotional problems, he engaged in "a close physical and intimate relationship" with her. The plaintiff also sued the archdiocese, claiming that it breached its duty to supervise the priest. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the archdiocese "knew or should have known that the priest had engaged in inappropriate behavior with the plaintiff" and, as a result, the archdiocese was liable for the priest's breach of a fiduciary duty. A trial court dismissed the claims against the priest and archdiocese, and the plaintiff appealed.

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