Key point 10-09.02. Some courts have found churches not liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a worker's acts of child molestation on the ground that the church exercised reasonable care in the supervision of the victim and of its own programs and activities.
This section reviews court decisions in which a church or other religious organization was found not liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a worker's acts of child molestation.
A federal appeals court ruled that an archdiocese was not responsible for the alleged molestation of a minor by a priest. Tichenor v. Roman Catholic Church, 32 F.3d 953 (5th Cir. 1994). An adult male sued a priest, a local Catholic church, and an archdiocese claiming that while he was a minor the priest performed illicit sexual acts upon him. The plaintiff alleged that the archdiocese and church were liable because they knew or should have known that illicit acts were being performed on their premises and at the priest's home. He charged that they failed to protect him or take appropriate measures to ascertain or correct the situation. Moreover, he alleged that they knew or should have known that they were fostering the priest's illicit activities and providing him with the means with which to conduct such activities. In rejecting the plaintiff's claim that the archdiocese was responsible for his injuries on the basis of negligent supervision, the court observed: "Employers do not have a duty to supervise their employees when the employees are off-duty or not working. Employers also are not liable for failure to supervise when the employee engages in independent criminal conduct which results in the plaintiff's injuries. Moreover, an employer's duty to supervise does not include a duty to uncover his employees' concealed, clandestine, personal activities. … It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the frequency with which these cases have surfaced suggests that the clergy at [the local church] were naive. There is, however, nothing to indicate that the archdiocese or [church] knew or should have known of what was taking place in [the priest's] private world."
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