EUPHIMISTIC OR CODED CHURCH LANGUAGE (2nd Ed)

There is often no proof of knowledge by church employment supervisors that sexual misconduct occurred with a minor until long after the fact.  One cause is that it is simply not reported to those supervisors at the time.  Sometimes, inexplicably, that which is reported is some other tale that does not include any hint of a sexual event.  However, sometimes it does become known to church employment supervisors.

In John Doe 122 v Marianist Province, Slip Op. (Mo. 2021), the Missouri Supreme Court reversed, in part, a summary judgment granted to the church.  The claim sent back for further proceedings was a claim for intentional failure to supervise clergy.  We previously reported on this case on January 29, 2020 regarding the Court of Appeals decision, which should now be considered superseded by this Supreme Court opinion.  The Plaintiff’s proof of culpable knowledge by the church was presented by an apparently credible expert witness that personnel file entries contained euphemistic code words used at the time that, indeed, in code referenced inappropriate sexual behavior with minors.  The trial court rejected such proof but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed and held it was for the trier of fact, probably a jury, to determine what weight to give the opinion.

While it is true that the standards of one era might differ from another, it is hard to imagine that clergy sexual misconduct could be so easily dismissed in any era by any church supervisory authority.  However, it still seems to happen no matter how often legal counsellors decry it.  Any church leader or clergy that becomes aware of sexual misconduct with a minor should consult legal counsel to determine if mandatory reporting is required.  Such a consultation will likely not be free or quick unless the advice is to immediately report.  Advice that indicates reporting is not required should be deliberate, careful, and thoroughly considered.

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