Sexual misconduct by clergy, lay employees, and volunteers
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 10-04.2. Some courts have found churches not liable on the basis of negligent selection for the molestation of a minor by a church worker since the church exercised reasonable care in the selection of the worker.
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 Massachusetts court ruled that a national and regional church were not responsible for the sexual abuse of a minor. A minor (the "victim") was sexually molested by an adult male (the "assailant") who was acting as a volunteer babysitter during a monthly church group meeting. The offender was convicted of two counts of assault and battery and indecent assault and battery on a child.
The victim sued a national denomination, and its regional agency (the "church defendants"), claiming that they were responsible for his injuries on the basis of negligence, gross negligence, and a failure to report child abuse to civil authorities. A trial court dismissed all claims against the church defendants, and the victim appealed.
The court rejected the victim's claims that the church defendants were legally responsible for his injuries on the basis of negligence. It noted that "while the possibility that criminal conduct will occur is always present in our modern society, liability for the criminal acts of third parties exists where there is a reasonable expectation that the defendant should anticipate harmful acts of third persons and take appropriate measures to protect the plaintiff from harm."