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.
A New Jersey appeals court affirmed the prison sentence of a pastor who engaged in “sexting” and sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. A 14-year-old girl (the “victim”) and her family lived across the street from the church they attended. The victim developed a close relationship with one of the church’s three pastors (the “defendant”). The two of them began texting each other. On one occasion, he hugged her in a way that made her uncomfortable in a backroom of the church. On another occasion, she went to speak with him in the church and he led her into a room with a couch where he initiated sexual contact with her. When he tried to flip her over, he fell and she told him to stop, which he did.
That same day the victim told her uncle what had happened. She did not tell her mother until later. Her uncle confronted the defendant and told him to apologize to the victim.
The victim continued to text the defendant. She eventually told one of the other pastors what the defendant had done, but she asked that the police not become involved. This pastor promptly notified the prosecutor’s office, which called defendant in to discuss the allegation. The defendant then spoke to the victim’s mother, admitting he “went too far.” The defendant was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and criminal sexual contact for which he was sentenced to an aggregate term of six years in prison, parole supervision for life, and additional mandatory penalties. State v. Lopez-Durango, 2018 WL 4956853 (N.J. App. 2018).