Church Law Guide Blog

The 5 Most Common Lawsuits Against a Church Part 1: Sexual Abuse of a Minor

We’ve all heard countless stories about children being sexually abused by adults they trust, even adults in the Church.  As the leader of a church or religious organization, it is your responsibility to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of children in your organization is a priority and that the children are zealously protected.

Steps to Protecting Minors in the Church

Perform Background Checks: If you run a children’s or a youth ministry, perform background checks on all individuals that work within the ministry.  The church may incur liability if an allegation of abuse arises and the church has failed to adequately vet the children’s ministry leaders for a past criminal history of sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Train Leaders:  Everybody has a different physical comfort zone.  What may be an offensive touch to you may not be offensive to the person standing next to you.  That being said, call all of your children’s ministry leaders together for a training on how to appropriately behave and interact with children.  Explain to them what amounts to sexual assault or child abuse and then give examples of appropriate touches of children.  Once everybody understands the law and expectations, it will be much easier to monitor the ministry and spot any inappropriate behavior should it arise.

Report Child Abuse:  Some states, including California, require clergy members to report child abuse, even if the disclosure is made in confidence to the religious leader.  California Penal Code §11165.7(a)(32) defines “clergy member” as a priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church, temple, or recognized denomination or organization.  By this definition, it is likely that all members of your children’s ministry team are mandated child abuse reporters under California law.  As a religious organization, it is your responsibility to make sure your leaders know and understand what abuse looks like and report it when required to do so.

An allegation of child abuse can completely dismantle a church or religious organization.  More importantly, children are the most vulnerable in our society and we should do everything we can to protect them.

If you need help setting up policies and procedures or training around your children’s ministry contact us at Wilkerson Stanley, PC. so we can help.

Asha Wilkerson is the founder of The Wilkerson Law Office.  She is also the author of Employment Law for Church Leaders. Ms. Wilkerson provides skilled advice and counsel to for-profit, non-profit, and faith-based organizations in the areas of business and employment law.  The mission of The Wilkerson Law Office, is to preserve the longevity of your business by ensuring that every aspect of your organization is legally sound and operating in compliance with state and federal law.