Church Sued for Minor’s Acts of Molestation

The minor had been molested by a church employee.

Church Law and Tax 1997-05-01

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers

Key point. Churches are not necessarily responsible for acts of child molestation committed by minors who themselves were molested by a church worker.

A Louisiana court ruled that a church was not legally responsible for a minor’s acts of child molestation. A minor molested two young children. The molestation did not occur at a church and had no connection with a church. However, the victims’ parents sued a church claiming that it was responsible for their children’s injuries because the molester had himself been molested by an employee of the church several years before. A state appeals court dismissed the lawsuit. It observed that “it is well-recognized that an actor has no duty to control the conduct of a third person so as to prevent him from causing physical harm to another unless a special relationship exists between the actor and the other so as to afford the other a right to protection.” The court concluded that no “special relationship” existed between the church and its former employee who molested the minor who later molested the two young children. Further, there was simply not a close enough connection between the acts of the church employee and the molestation later committed by a boy that he molested.

Application. This is the first case we have seen in which a church was sued for an act of child molestation having no connection with the church other than the fact that the offender was previously molested by a church employee. Fortunately, the court rejected this basis of liability. Had it found the church liable, it would have sent a message that a church is forever liable for acts of child molestation committed by persons who themselves were at one time molested by a church worker. Lambert v. Word of Faith Ministries, 673 So.2d 1150 (La. App. 1996). [Negligence as a Basis for Liability]

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