Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Misconduct, Institutional Liability, Ethics and the Law

29 Pages Posted: 6 May 2002

See all articles by David E. Guinn

David E. Guinn

Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy


Banner headlines have born witness to a disturbing trend: Priests accused of child abuse; Ministers charged with having affairs with congregants they have been counseling; and Rabbis and Elders violating the confidences of the faithful. The behavior in and of itself is appalling: The betrayal of trust; and the abuse of the innocent by someone charged with their care. That these acts are perpetrated by a religious leader magnifies the crime. It is a betrayal not only of the individual, but of the faith itself. How should society respond?

In this paper I will explore the intersection between professional misconduct, institutional responsibility and religious freedom. I will review the various civil claims used to address the problem of clergy misconduct and the defense offered to religious institutions by the religion clauses of the First Amendment. I will be paying particular attention to the role and position of the religious institution (e.g. church, congregation, etc.) I will explore the justifications for these First Amendment defenses, especially in considering the potential for religious bias in even the most reasonable sounding theory of judging religious behavior.

Suggested Citation

Guinn, David E., Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Misconduct, Institutional Liability, Ethics and the Law. Available at SSRN: or

David E. Guinn (Contact Author)

Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy ( email )

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Albany, NY 12246
United States

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