The Church Is Not Above The Law

For most Americans who have a faith, a place of worship like a church, synagogue or mosque is a symbol of that faith, and expressing it freely, without fear. For most Americans, that’s exactly what happens once the place of worship is entered, surrounded by others of the same faith, and ushered in by a spiritual leader, such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam.

Tragically, however, sometimes, this complete faith and trust in a religious community can be broken, and the culprit may even be the spiritual leader. When this happens, it can be both traumatic and extraordinarily difficult to resolve the issue, especially in cases of sexual abuse, but American law does not take exception to religious leaders, and there are contingencies in place to fight this in court.

Clergy Abuse

When a spiritual leader abuses the responsibilities and trust given by the community, especially for activities such as sexual abuse, which is a criminal act, this is known as clergy abuse. The word clergy itself is a European term, specifically derived from Old French, to denote people officially ordained to minister and lead a religion. Of course, while the US initially had primarily Christian roots from its first waves of colonists, immigration over the centuries has expanded the faiths practiced in the USA to include Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and many others.

One thing that does not change is that American law recognizes that spiritual leaders, or clergy, have been accorded exceptional power and responsibility within a community. They are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with that responsibility and not use it for personal gain, especially of a sexual nature against adults—and especially children—who do not give consent.

Is It Really Abuse?

Of course, when thinking about abuse from a spiritual leader, this is always a difficult and worrying prospect. No one wants to accuse a religious leader of impropriety, and then be proven wrong. The initial accusation itself is usually enough for the religious organization to go on the defensive and fight the accusation, while the very public nature of such an accusation is likely to impair—or even destroy—the relationship the accuser has with the rest of the religious community.

Clergy abuse, however, can come in many different forms and doesn’t have to be as extreme as actual sexual activity. If you or a member of your family experiences:

  • Frequent touching from a clergy member, especially in genital areas

  • Flirtatious interactions

  • Hugs that linger for too long, or kisses to the lips instead of on the cheek
    Frequent private encounters that often focus on personal interactions rather than matters of faith

  • Gift giving and frequent personal encounters

Any of these activities is alarming if it is focused on an adult. If it is focused on a minor, it becomes dangerous. And while it’s true that some faiths do allow for romantic relationships between clergy and laypeople, in most instances, there is no power dynamic of religious leaders and members of the local faith in effect. When clergy are permitted to have romantic relationships, it is always with someone outside the community they are servicing. A member of the clergy should never interact romantically with a member of a community that clergy member is serving.

Taking Action

If you find you or someone you know is being victimized by clergy abuse, it is an upsetting situation that can often feel like there is no solution. The truth, however, is that while clergy abuse is a complex issue, it is one in which the law can help. There are attorneys with experience in clergy abuse. Talk to them and find out what the best approach is for resolving the situation.


Client Testimonials

Attorney David Goldman has been exceptional in the process of helping me through the case. He has always been easy to reach, whether by phone or email, and has thorough knowledge and explains clearly in depth so you feel safe and confident in your lawyer

I used Michael Babboni and his paralegal, Nicole Moore for a legal matter. They went above and beyond my expectations. During the entire process there was constant communication with both Michael and Nicole. They were extremely organized and on top of my case, which I am very grateful for. Michael truly had my best interests at heart and he was very genuine. I plan on referring Michael to all family and friends and will continue to use him in the future.

I dealt most with Mr. Fernandez. I didn’t know a lot about this process. He took the time to speak with me individually, in person, to explain everything. It was very helpful to actually know and understand the process and what to expect. He closed my case quickly, which was nice that it was not prolonged! I appreciated his hard work and getting me what I felt I deserved after my car accident. I highly recommend him to anyone who needs an honest and reliable lawyer to assist you with your case!

I hired Mr. Walsh after an automobile accident this past March. He and his entire staff were extremely professional. They kept me informed every step of the way and settled my case in a timely manner. Thank you so much for your help.


Law Offices Near You

Sarasota Office



3550 S Tamiami Trail, 3rd Floor Sarasota Florida 34239

Bradenton Office



5291 Office Park Blvd. Bradenton Florida 34203

St. Petersburg Office

St. Petersburg


6446 Central Avenue St. Petersburg Florida 33707

Venice Office



3986 S. Tamiami Trail Venice Florida 34293

Englewood Office



2960 S. McCall Rd Englewood Florida 34224

Port Charlotte Office

Port Charlotte


3986 Tamiami Trail Port Charlotte Florida 33952

Arcadia Office



10 South DeSoto Avenue Arcadia Florida 34266

Fort Myers Office

Fort Myers


8359 Beacon Blvd Fort Myers Florida 33907

Lakeland Office



5137 S. Lakeland Dr. Lakeland Florida 33813

Get personal attention from a lawyer with decades of experience.