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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Pastor's Sexual Misconduct
Is the church responsible?
New York
State:

Key point 10-09.1. Some courts have found churches liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a worker's acts of child molestation on the ground that the church failed to exercise reasonable care in the supervision of the victim or of its own programs and activities.

Key point 10-02.3. Churches can be legally responsible on the basis of the respondeat superior doctrine for the actions of their employees only if those actions are committed within the course of employment and further the mission and functions of the church. Intentional and self-serving acts of church employees often will not satisfy this standard.

A New York court ruled that a pastor who engaged in sexual affairs with two adult women was not liable for his acts on the basis of breach of a fiduciary duty. Two women (the "plaintiffs") sued the pastor for breach of fiduciary duty and infliction of emotional distress, and sought to hold the church liable for negligent supervision. The court concluded that "to demonstrate the existence of a fiduciary duty between a cleric and congregant in a formal counseling relationship, there must be characteristics of control and dominance in the relationship," and that a relationship is marked by control and dominance "when the congregant is uniquely vulnerable and incapable of self-protection."

The court concluded that there can be no liability for sexual misconduct on the basis of negligent supervision without proof that a church was aware of prior, similar acts. This demonstrates the importance of church leaders responding quickly and adequately to allegations of sexual misconduct by any employee or volunteer.

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