Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Church Is Liable for Molestation of Minor
Despite no prior incidents of misconduct, duty of care should have been enforced

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

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.

A Washington court ruled that a church could be liable for the molestation of a minor by a volunteer in the church's scouting program, even without knowledge of prior incidents of misconduct by the volunteer. In the early spring of 1977, a stranger (the "defendant") began attending a church. He was personable, but gave only a vague explanation of "what he did and who he was and where he came from." The defendant offered to volunteer with the church's Boy Scout troop, and the church leadership decided to accept him as a volunteer. The defendant quickly assumed substantial responsibilities for the troop's activities, though he was never officially registered with the Boy Scouts of America. He conducted scout meetings every week, took the scouts on camping trips, and helped them earn their merit badges.

An adult male (the "victim") claimed that the defendant began sexually molesting him in 1977, about a week after they met. The incidents occurred in various places, including the defendant's home during sleepovers, in his car in the church parking lot, or during campouts. The defendant also molested at least two other scouts during scouting events and sleepovers. One of these other victims informed his mother, who reported the abuse to church leaders the same day. She was told not to call the police and that church leaders would "take care of it." The church leaders tried to contact the defendant, who left town the same night. The church conducted a parents meeting. Parents were instructed to discuss the defendant with their sons. Questioned by his parents, the plaintiff denied that the defendant had molested him. He did not tell friends or siblings about it either.

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