by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Court Decisions Rejecting Negligent Selection Claims

§ 10.04.02
Key point 10-04.02. Some courts have found churches not liable on the basis of negligent selection for the molestation of a minor by a church worker since the church exercised reasonable care in the selection of the worker.

This section reviews court decisions in which a church or other religious organization was found not liable on the basis of negligent selection for a worker's acts of child molestation. Note that some courts have concluded that the First Amendment's "nonestablishment of religion" and "free exercise of religion" clauses prevent the civil courts from resolving negligent selection claims involving clergy misconduct.

Case Studies
  • A federal appeals court ruled that an archdiocese was not responsible for the alleged molestation of a minor by a priest.[64] Tichenor v. Roman Catholic Church, 32 F.3d 953 (5th Cir. 1994). The victim claimed that the archdiocese should have known that the priest had a history of sexual improprieties and that he would continue to pursue those activities when under its employ. He insisted that a minimal background check would have revealed the priest's pattern of sexual activity with minors. The court, in rejecting this argument, observed, "The record, however, permits of no conclusion that the [archdiocese] suspected that [the priest] had engaged in sexual improprieties or might do so in the future. It is doubtful that the archdiocese … knew anything about [his] darker side. [He] was diligent in guarding his secrets. He did not disclose his extracurricular activities to anyone at any time in the course of his employment and, from his perspective, with good reason. No tangible evidence in the form of a criminal history or discipline exists that would have been uncovered in a background check."

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