Is the church liable when an adult member has a consensual sexual relationship with one of the church’s pastors? This question was addressed first to the Common Pleas Court in Franklin County, Ohio when a member sued the church claiming she was “taken advantage of” by a sexual encounter with a former pastor. She claimed the church was liable for the acts of its former pastor who apparently had a history of such encounters. It was not clear the then current pastor had advance notice of the former pastor’s history. The Common Pleas Court ruled in favor of the church and the member appealed.
The Tenth District Court of Appeals held that the church was not liable because the former pastor’s conduct was outside the scope of his pastoral duties, and was not reasonably foreseeable. The Court noted that the act was planned in advance, did not occur on or near church premises, and did not arise out of a counseling session, but occurred when the pastor invited the member to his apartment, while telling her his wife was not home.
Further, the member’s claim that the former pastor “took sexual advantage” of her, fell short of alleging she was incapable of consenting, so the former pastor was not individually liable. Consequently, the church could not be held liable. DiPietro v. Lighthouse Ministries, 159 Ohio App. 3d 766 (2005).
So, the answer to the question is: it depends on the facts. The DiPietro case should be viewed with caution. The
Appeals Court took great pains to distinguish the facts before it from a situation in which a member actually is taken advantage of when not in a position to refuse consent. Also, the Court separated the place of the sexual encounter away from church property or from a church counseling session.