Key point 10-10.01. Some courts have found churches liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a minister's acts of sexual misconduct involving adult church members on the ground that the church failed to exercise reasonable care in the supervision of the minister.
This section reviews court decisions in which a church or other religious organization was found liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a minister's acts of sexual misconduct with another adult.
The Colorado Supreme Court found an Episcopal diocese and bishop legally responsible for a pastor's sexual misconduct with a female parishioner on the basis of a number of grounds, including negligent supervision. Moses v. Diocese of Colorado, 863 P.2d 310 (Colo. 1993). The court observed, "An employer may therefore be subject to liability for negligent supervision if he knows or should have known that an employee's conduct would subject third parties to an unreasonable risk of harm. … Both the diocese and [the bishop] had previous exposure to the problem of sexual relationships developing between priests and parishioners because the problem had arisen seven times before. The psychological reports gave notice that further supervision may be required. The reports indicate problems of sexual identification ambiguity, depression and low self-esteem. [The pastor's] file also indicated he had problems with authority. [He] had an inability to respond to superior authority. A reasonable person would have inquired further into [his] known difficulty in dealing with superior authority, and would have assumed a greater degree of care in monitoring his conduct. In light of its knowledge, it was reasonable for the jury to determine the [bishop and diocese] should have been alert to the possibility of problems with [the pastor] and taken adequate steps to insure [he] was not in a position where he could abuse the trust he enjoys as a priest conducting counseling."
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