Key Point 4-11.1. Clergy who engage in sexual contact with an adult or minor are subject to civil liability on the basis of several legal theories. They also are subject to criminal liability.
Key Point 4-11.02. Clergy who are sued for sexual misconduct may be able to assert one or more defenses.
A New York court ruled that a state law abolishing any remedy for alienation of affections and seduction barred a woman from suing a spiritual leader and counselor for damages she allegedly suffered as a result of a five-year sexual relationship. The founder and spiritual leader of a Jewish synagogue (the "defendant") held himself out as a counselor and advisor with an expertise in women's issues. A woman (the "plaintiff") began attending services at the synagogue. The defendant advised her with respect to her personal, legal and financial problems, and represented that he would assist her in finding a husband so she would be able to marry and have children as she wished. The two eventually began a sexual relationship that lasted for five years.
The plaintiff alleged that she was induced by defendant to engage in this physical relationship "as part of a course of sexual therapy which he represented would lead to her achieving her goals of marriage and children." He told her she was "closed to the possibility of finding a husband" and "would never find a husband in her current state." He advised her "to permit him to have sexual intercourse with her so that her 'life will open up and men will come' to her." He told her he "was as close to God as anyone could get," and engaging in sexual relations with him would be her "only hope." The relationship did not lead to the outcome the plaintiff desired. Rather, she claimed, the defendant "physically and emotionally abused [her] for his own sexual pleasure and gratification," and warned that if she told anyone about their sexual relationship he "would have her placed in a straight jacket," "have her put in the penitentiary," and "would turn the community against her."