Can Clergy Be Sued for Malpractice?
Yes. In recent times, the legal system has seen a significant increase in the amount of lawsuits being brought against the clergy and the churches they represent. While a majority of these malpractice suits have involved sexual impropriety with minors, clergy malpractice can occur whenever a clergy violates a duty he has to one of the church’s members.
How Can a Clergy Be Found Liable for Malpractice?
Because the role of clergy is that of a spiritual advisor, many of the same claims of malpractice are similar to those filed against mental health professionals. There are numerous pitfalls in this field though, as many clergy do not possess such licenses, making it difficult to hold them to any real legal standard. The following, however, are the most typical claims in a clergy malpractice suit:
- Sexual impropriety
- Improper personal advice
- Breach of confidentiality or privacy
- Wrongful death
- Defamation or slander
What Difficulties Present In Clergy Malpractice Are Absent From Other Professional Malpractice?
Clergy malpractice is often not recognized as professional malpractice by courts. Judges are reluctant to create standards of care for clergy the same way standards for other professions are created because judges do not want to violate the Constitution’s laws regarding religion (freedom of religion and/or establishing a religion). However, this began changing in the 1980’s when a tidal wave of such cases began to appear. Although courts are more willing to hear clergy malpractice cases now, this area of the law is still new after centuries of being considered taboo.
What Does a Successful Clergy Malpractice Case Look Like?
Clergy malpractices, like all malpractice cases, begin with a claim of negligence. It must be established that the clergy have a duty and a responsibility to the members of the religious organization who seek the clergy. Next, the clergy must be proven to have violated that duty. After that, the members must show they have suffered significant harm and that the harm was a direct result of the breach of the duty.
Unlike other malpractice cases, a clergy malpractice suit is avoiding holding clergy to a professional standard of care because 1) such a professional standard does not exist and 2) it would likely make judges believe that they have to create a standard, which would lend to excessive state intervention in the affairs of a church. Many attorneys working in this area have, instead, used other tactics such as framing the case in terms of employment law or avoiding the term “clergy malpractice” all together.
Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Involvement in a Clergy Malpractice Claim?
If you have been the victim of abuse by a member of the clergy, in addition to possible criminal charges, you may be able to bring a suit in civil court for damages. Because of the complicated and evolving nature of this field of law, it is helpful to consult with an experienced and creative malpractice attorney to assure the best possible representation and outcome.