While we have examined publication of reports of sexual misconduct by clergy as a basis for a defamation claim, and it generally will not support a defamation claim, it is rare to see a claim that the victims were outed by the local church. The difference between defamation as a claim and invasion of privacy as a claim alone might account for different treatment of such claims. The uncertainty regarding invasion of privacy claims is whether the church at the time of disclosure had a duty to safeguard the identity of victims.
In John Doe v Woodland Presbyterian, Slip Op. (Tenn. App. 2022), the denomination was dismissed by the trial court because the denomination as a corporate entity had no minimum contacts with Tennessee and therefore, personal jurisdiction could not be exercised by the court over the denomination. A theory of agency or corporate alter ego (aka respondeat superior) did not save the claim. But, the rest of the claim remained viable at this stage (the motion to dismiss stage) against the local church and archdiocese. One of the claims preserved was that the local church revealed the identity of the victims to the media. The appellate court held there was a duty in Tennessee of reasonable care to safeguard the identifies of the alleged victims.
“Invasion of privacy” is not widely recognized as an independent tort arising from a duty. Indeed, while identities of certain classes of sexual misconduct victims are protected in various states, there is a lack of universality. Because the legal clarity of this type of protection is uncertain in some states, the better practice is to avoid the issue at all by non-disclosure other than as required by Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting statutes.