Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan | The Church’s Legal Vulnerability

Negligent hiring simply means that the church failed to act responsibly and with due care in the selection of workers (both volunteer and compensated) for positions involving the supervision or custody of minors. A church may exercise sufficient care in the hiring of an individual, but still be legally accountable for acts of molestation on the basis of negligent supervision. Negligent supervision means that a church did not exercise sufficient care in supervising a worker.

Church leaders need to understand the extent of their liability. Churches are not “guarantors” of the safety and well-being of children. They are not absolutely liable for every injury that occurs on their premises or in the course of their activities. Generally, they are responsible only for those injuries that result from their negligence. Victims of molestation who have sued a church often allege that the church was negligent in not adequately screening applicants or for not providing adequate supervision. As noted above, some churches are willing to use just about anyone who expresses an interest in working in a volunteer capacity with the youth in the church (e.g., boys or girls programs, Sunday school, children’s

choir, nursery, teenagers, and camp). Applicants for compensated positions may not be extensively screened or closely supervised.

Assume that an incident of abuse occurs at your church, and that the pastor is asked to testify during the trial. The victim’s lawyer asks, “What did you or your staff do to prevent this tragedy from occurring? What procedures did you utilize to check the molester’s background and supervise his work with children?” What would your pastor say? If the answer is “nothing,” you can well imagine the jury’s reaction. The only question in the jurors’ minds at this point is the size of the verdict.

Thought Provokers • What do you think is your church’s biggest area of vulnerability to child sexual abuse? Trust? Lack of screening? Access?

• Is your church vulnerable in any area that could lead to a law suit: negligent hiring, negligent supervision, other? Be specific.

• How might you begin to address your church’s weaknesses today? n


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