Every year, when I review about 12,000 cases pertaining to religious organizations across all 50 states and the federal courts, I systematically categorize them by type to help understand the top reasons religious organizations, including churches, go to court. In 2017, the top five reasons were (1) sexual abuse of a minor, (2) property disputes, (3) personal injuries, (4) zoning disputes, and (5) insurance disputes. (See infographic.)
In 2016, the sexual abuse of a minor dropped from first place to second place for the first time in 20 years. Additionally, it went from 11.7 percent of the total cases to 8.3 percent. It was a significant drop. I hoped it indicated a trend—a sign churches were responding more aggressively to prevention training because of all the publicity child abuse has received in recent years. I read some of the testimony before Congress at a recent legislative initiative. There is an increasing loathing and revulsion of the public toward child molesters and toward institutions that know of abuse or suspected abuse and don't do anything about it.
But here's the sad part. After analyzing the 2016 data, I thought, Good. We've gone from 11.7 percent to 8.3 percent. Something is happening out there. And then I tabulated the data for 2017. It's back up to number one—from 8.3 percent to 12.1 percent. That's sickening. We're not doing the job I thought we were doing. I thought maybe we turned a corner and we're going to see this risk drop. It's not dropping.