Cases of sexual misconduct involving the clergy are not limited to children. The clergy hold a position of trust and therefore a fundamental obligation of care owed to children and adults. When a member of the clergy takes advantage of an adult’s innocence and vulnerability, it can still be criminalized based on laws surrounding sexual abuse. Religiously-based incidents of abuse are not protected by constitutional free exercise prerogatives offered by clergy.
Sexual misconduct on the part of a clergyperson or person in a position of religious authority can be considered “clergy malpractice” especially when the clergyperson is acting as a counselor in the relationship. They can be liable for a breach of duty based on the “secular standard of care” as well as what is called a “breach of the fiduciary obligation” which is owed to all clients of counselors.
The Fiduciary Relationship
If you were sexually abused or assaulted by a clergyperson, a lawyer can assist you in pursuing damages by establishing you shared what is called a Fiduciary Relationship. This relationship is defined by characteristics that include:
- Emotional intimacy and vulnerability
When these characteristics exist it becomes easier for a counselor to take advantage of that relationship for their own benefit including transference and countertransference even in what is considered to be “consensual” sexual contact.
Understanding Your Rights
Civil Liability of a clergyperson occurs when there is a breach of a clergy’s concept of duty owed to provide you with a prescribed standard of care. As well, if there is a fiduciary relationship between you, this leaves you vulnerable as the clergyperson has an obligation to put your interests above their own. If you feel you were taken advantage of and that a form of sexual misconduct or harassment occurred, you have a right to call the police and report the incident, as well as pursue damages through a civil lawsuit.
Supporting Your Case
In a case of sexual misconduct or abuse involving an adult and a clergyperson, we focus on providing evidence sexual acts or contact did occur and breached the clergyperson’s fiduciary duty. The cases are specific to secular counseling and once we can define your relationship as fiduciary, it becomes easier for us to avoid the questioning of your own conduct in the incident or incidents.
As soon as we can establish the counseling has a religious or spiritual dimension, and that the trust and emotional ties of that relationship were breached, we can help establish clergy malpractice and civil liability for the clergyperson. Because a clergyperson’s very role has a secular nature, it would be hard for them to defend themselves and remove this aspect of their role from the case and their interactions with you.
If you have been a victim of clergy or religious counselors’ abuse, the experts at Malley law firm understand the emotional sensitivities of your case. Speak to our attorney for sexual harassment by a clergy today to learn how we can help.