Churches have a duty to protect children from sexual abuse by clergy while the children are attending religious school or participating in other church-sponsored programs




Churches Have a Duty to Protect Children in Their Care from Sexual Abuse In Doe v. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of L.A., B305810 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2021), the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s order granting the Archdiocese’s motion for summary judgment after finding that the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of material fact as to whether the Archdiocese owed a duty of care to the plaintiff to protect him from sexual abuse by a clergy member.The California Court of Appeal for the Second District held that the Archdiocese had a duty to act with reasonable care to prevent the sexual abuse of minors in its custody by clergy or other adults over whom the Archdiocese exercised some control and reversed the superior court’s order. A Special Relationship Existed Between the Archdiocese and the Plaintiff The Court of Appeal explained that a two-step analysis is required to determine if a defendant had a legal duty to protect a plaintiff from injuries caused by a third party: (1) whether a special relationship existed between the parties, or some other set of circumstances gave rise to an affirmative duty to protect the plaintiff; and (2) whether the Rowland factors justify excusing or limiting the defendant’s duty of care.The Court found that a special relationship existed between the plaintiff and the Archdiocese because the plaintiff was enrolled in catechism classes offered by the Archdiocese. While in catechism classes, the plaintiff and his parents relied on the Archdiocese for the plaintiff’s protection and the Archdiocese had “superior control over the means of protection.”The Court held that the Archdiocese had a duty to take reasonable measures to protect the plaintiff while he attended their catechism classes. The Archdiocese did not owe a duty of protection to all its parishioners; this duty was limited to the students participating in the Archdiocese youth programs. The Rowland Factors Did Not Support an Exception to Imposing the Duty of Care The Court explained that the Rowland factors fall into two categories: (1) foreseeability of harm and (2) public policy considerations. The Court found that neither of these categories supported finding an exception to imposing the duty of care on the Archdiocese.The Archdiocese was aware that numerous priests had been accused of sexually abusing minors in the archdiocese during the time that the plaintiff alleged to have suffered abuse and thus it was reasonably foreseeable that minors attending catechism classes during this time might be sexually molested by a priest.

April 14, 2022
Doe v. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of L.A., B305810 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2021)
California Courts