Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Can a Denomination Be Held Responsible for a Pastor's Sexual Misconduct?
The answer hinges on whether the pastor is considered an employee of the denomination.

Key point 10-02.1. Employers may be liable on the basis of respondeat superior only for the acts of employees.

Key point 10-18.2. Most courts have refused to hold denominational agencies liable for the acts of affiliated ministers and churches, either because of First Amendment considerations or because the relationship between the denominational agency and affiliated church or minister is too remote to support liability.

A Texas court ruled that a national church was not responsible on the basis of respondeat superior or negligence for a pastor's sexual misconduct; and, that use of the denominational name in the local church's name did not impose on the national church any duty to investigate pastors who served its affiliated churches. A woman (the "plaintiff") claimed that in 1990 several woman in her church complained to the denomination (the "national church") with which the church was affiliated about their pastor's sexually inappropriate behavior. The plaintiff claimed that no action was taken. Several years later, the plaintiff claimed that the pastor "engaged in a pattern of egregious physical and sexual abuse against" her when she sought "spiritual counseling" from him. These acts occurred both at the church and in the parsonage "under the guise of pastoral counseling." The plaintiff claimed that she wrote a letter to the national church "specifically outlining this pattern of abuse" and that the national church appointed two representatives to investigate but took no action.

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