For many years, I used a five-step checklist for minimizing the risk of child sexual abuse on church property or during church activities:
- a written application
- an interview
- reference checks
- a six-month rule (no one considered for youth or children’s ministry who has not been a member of the church for at least six months)
- a two-adult rule (no child allowed to be alone with one unrelated adult at any time)
In recent years, I added a sixth precaution—a criminal records check (national database and national sex offender registry).
After reviewing an important background court case (below), along with other recent precedents, developments, and key insights related to public revulsion of child abuse, I have now developed a new 13-step set of precautions to manage the risk of child sexual abuse in churches.
Background court case
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a Catholic diocese was not liable on the basis of negligent hiring or breach of a fiduciary duty for a priest’s molestation of two young boys, but could be liable on the basis of negligent retention and supervision. Andrews v. Cronin, 34 Mass. L.. Rep. 663 (Mass. Super 2018).
The bishop of a Catholic diocese in Massachusetts was responsible for governing it. In 1977, he appointed a priest to serve as pastor of a church in the diocese. The priest remained at this church until his retirement in 1986. He passed away in 1996. In the 1970s, he appointed two nine-year-old boys (the “plaintiffs”) as altar servers. The boys served for several years. While they were altar servers, the priest took them on numerous trips, primarily to see sporting events in Boston and around the country. The out-of-state trips included yearly two-week trips to Florida, yearly trips to New Hampshire, an extended trip to the west coast, and trips to Canada, Wisconsin, New York, Kansas City, and Hartford. The priest and the plaintiffs would stay at hotels overnight. The plaintiffs claimed that as a matter of routine each morning during these trips the priest would sexually molest them. During this period, the plaintiffs also spent a significant amount of time at the rectory where the priest and another priest resided, and they claimed to have been sexually abused during overnight visits.