Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Pastor, Church, and Denomination Could Face Liability for Negligent Supervision But Not for 'Duty to Warn'
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 10-13.2. 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 federal court in Vermont ruled that a church and its parent denomination could be liable for a pastor's acts of child molestation on the basis of negligent supervision, but not on the basis of a "duty to warn" the congregation of the pastor's dangerous propensities. A woman (the "plaintiff") sued her former church, its pastor, and the national denomination with which the church is affiliated, claiming that she had been sexually molested by the pastor when she was a minor. The plaintiff's mother eventually learned of the abuse, and reported it to church officials. The officials took no action against the pastor, issued no warnings to the congregation, and did not report abuse to any child protective agency or police agency. The plaintiff claimed that the pastor abused at least three other minors before abusing her, one of whom reported the abuse to the church, which took no action.

The plaintiff sued the church in a federal district court for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, breach of a duty to warn the congregation, ratification, and fraud.

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