Recent Developments in Louisiana Regarding Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers

A Louisiana court found a pastor guilty of sexually molesting an adolescent girl.

Church Law and Tax1999-11-01

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Staff

Key point. Unsupervised contacts between male church workers and adolescent females may lead to inappropriate sexual behavior, or to false allegations of inappropriate conduct. In either case, the church worker is exposing himself and his church to legal risk.

A Louisiana court found a pastor guilty of sexually molesting an adolescent girl. The case contains some important lessons for church leaders. A pastor traveled to Louisiana in 1980 to conduct a revival at a local church. Over the next few years, he returned on a number of occasions to conduct services at the church. The church asked him to become their pastor when their former pastor died. Because the church did not have funds to pay the pastor a salary, he moved into the home of one of the families who attended the church. He had his own room at the family’s home, he was paid to transport the children back and forth to school while their parents worked, and he was given authority over various aspects of the household, including financial matters and discipline of the children. One of the family’s children (the “victim”) later testified that the pastor began kissing her on the mouth and touching her through her underwear when she was about ten years old. This behavior continued for the next few years in various places, including the pastor’s car, the church study, and his room in the house where they lived. When the victim was about 14 years of age, the pastor attempted further sexual activity with the girl. At that time, he had begun to subsidize his income by working for an insurance company. He took the victim and her brother with him to a motel to “check out” a room to be used for a recruitment meeting. The victim’s brother was left downstairs while the pastor took the victim upstairs to a room, pushed the victim onto the bed, and tried to have intercourse with her, while she pleaded with him to stop. The pastor did not stop until his third unsuccessful attempt at intercourse with the child. A year later, the victim was riding with the pastor to give him directions to the home of a woman she knew. The pastor remarked that the victim was now fifteen years old, the age at which he had engaged in intercourse for the first time. He told her he wanted to have sex with her to remind him of his first time. He then pulled off the road and had intercourse with her. The pastor initiated some sort of sexual activity almost daily from this point onward. He told the victim to keep all these activities just between them. He further told her there was nothing wrong with what they were doing because he was a pastor and would not do anything wrong. When she was 17 years old, the victim began taking a sex education course at the parochial school she attended. She was taught that this sexual behavior outside of marriage was sinful. She confronted the pastor with questions about their sexual activity. He explained that the church which ran her school “worshipped a false god.” He further told her that when she became eighteen years old they would be married, which would make everything right. He and the victim stopped having sexual contact at this point. Meanwhile, the victim’s parents were having marital problems. They separated and eventually divorced. The pastor later admitted to having had an affair with the victim’s mother, which resulted in the birth of a child.

A few years later, the victim’s mother was on an errand with a recently widowed woman she knew from the church. When the woman informed her that she and the pastor were going to be married, the victim’s mother suspected that if the pastor was already serious with a woman whose husband had just died, he had probably been molesting her daughter during all those “counseling sessions” when he took her into his room and locked the door. The victim’s mother then told the woman that she had been having an affair with the pastor. The woman drove to her home and asked the pastor to come over. The victim’s mother went into a bedroom while the woman confronted the pastor. He first denied the affair with the victim’s mother, but admitted it as she came out of the bedroom. The victim’s mother attempted to stab the pastor with a knife, but he grabbed her hand in time to prevent any harm.

The victim’s mother then went home to confront her daughter. The victim insisted on seeing the pastor before she would talk to her mother. After a lengthy conversation with the pastor, the victim came home and told her mother all that he had done to her. The victim then exposed the pastor’s activities to the church authorities, who did not believe her. In order to convince them, she hid a tape recorder and had a conversation with the pastor relative to their relationship. That tape was played for the jury and transcripts were distributed. However, much of the tape was inaudible, and the references on the tape were vague. In addition, the victim taped a conversation she had with the woman from church, now the pastor’s wife. That tape was also played for the jury and transcripts of it were distributed. Much of this tape was also inaudible, and the references on that tape were likewise vague. The pastor testified that the apology he referred to in the tape was for disappointing the victim as to his affairs with other women. At trial, he denied having any sexual activity with the victim, though he admitted that his feelings for her changed as she got older. He admitted sending a letter resigning from the church for “sexual immorality” on the advice of church authorities. He testified that this sexual immorality consisted of his affairs with women, not any activity with the victim.

The pastor was charged with a variety of sexual offenses which occurred while he lived in the victim’s home and served as minister of her family’s church, including molestation of a juvenile and carnal knowledge of a juvenile. He was found guilty, and sentenced to a term of hard labor at a state penitentiary.

Application. This tragic case illustrates a couple of important points. First, it demonstrates the risks associated with unsupervised contacts between adult males and adolescent females. The victim and her mother testified that the pastor frequently “counseled” with the victim in his bedroom with the door locked. Further, the pastor frequently was responsible for supervising the victim, and took her places in his car. Such intimate association led to countless incidents of sexual conduct, the jury concluded. Church leaders should adopt policies to minimize or eliminate the risk of such unsupervised “one-on-one” contacts between adult males and minor females. It is worth noting that the pastor steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. The jury did not believe him, but what if he in fact was telling the truth? The fact that he engaged repeatedly in unsupervised contacts with the victim made it impossible for him to prove his innocence. This is another risk of unsupervised opposite sex contacts. Again, churches should adopt policies that will reduce or eliminate this risk. Second, it should be noted that church leaders immediately rejected the victim’s accusations when she informed them of the pastor’s many years of sexual misconduct. No doubt they were stunned. But denying such allegations without any attempt to verify them is never an appropriate response. Such a response has prompted many victims to bring civil lawsuits against their church. Third, the pastor was found guilty and is serving time in a state penitentiary. If and when he is released from prison, he may again seek employment as a pastor. If so, it is likely that he will lie about his past, failing to disclose his criminal record or his previous church employment. What if he applies at your church? Have you adopted screening procedures that would disclose his true background? State v. Holmes, 709 So.2d 1002 (La. App. 1998). [Seduction of Counselees and Church Members]

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