Legal Liability

Church Law and Tax 1989-09-01 Recent Developments

Denominations – Legal Liability

A New York state court ruled that two Catholic archdioceses and the “Catholic Charities” organization could not be sued for the alleged misconduct of the “Catholic Home Bureau.” A mother left her infant child with the Catholic Home Bureau for adoption, and the child was temporarily placed in a foster home. The mother later revoked her consent to any adoption, and demanded the return of her child. When the foster parents refused to relinquish custody, the mother obtained a court order forcing the foster parents to return the child. The mother then sued the Catholic Home Bureau for “wrongful deprivation of the custody of her infant child” and for social work malpractice. She also named the Catholic Charities and two Archdioceses as defendants on the basis of their alleged failure to adequately supervise the activities of the Catholic Home Bureau. In support of her claim against the Catholic Charities, the mother relied upon a publication of the Catholic Charities that described itself as a corporation which “coordinates and supervises all charitable activities of the Archdiocese of New York” and that listed the Catholic Home Bureau as one of 16 “affiliated child welfare agencies.” The court, in rejecting the mother’s lawsuit against the Catholic Charities, relied exclusively upon the affidavit of the executive director of the Catholic Home Bureau in which she emphatically denied that Catholic Charities exercised any supervisory authority over the activities of Catholic Home Bureau. The lawsuit against the two archdioceses was similarly dismissed. This case is significant in that it recognizes that the statements of religious leaders are entitled to considerable if not controlling weight in determining whether or not a denominational agency should be legally accountable for the alleged misconduct of an affiliated church or organization. Accordingly, it may be helpful for denominations and denominational agencies that exercise little if any supervision or control over the activities of affiliated churches or organizations to immediately prepare an appropriate affidavit by a high ranking officer in the event that the denomination is sued as a result of the alleged misconduct of an affiliated church or organization. Dunn v. Catholic Home Bureau for Dependent Children, 537 N.Y.S.2d 742 (N.Y. 1989).

See also Child abuse, Dunn v. Gracia, 768 P.2d 419 (Ore. App. 1989).

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