A study published in the November 2013 edition of Christianity Today states that the number one reason churches get sued is claims involving the alleged sexual abuse of a minor. (This is followed by insurance coverage disputes, religious freedom disputes, property disputes, and personal injury disputes, in that order.)
This is particularly true in Oregon, which has some of the most pro-plaintiff laws in the country concerning a religious organization’s direct and vicarious liability for the abuse of a child by an employee.
Also, pursuant to Oregon Revised Statutes 12.117, Oregon allows alleged child abuse victims to sue until just before their 40th birthdays. This extended statute of limitations also allows child abuse lawsuits to be filed decades after a plaintiff turns 40 if they can show repressed memories of the abuse.
The wide degree to which Oregon law allows a religious organization to be held vicariously liable for child abuse by an employee was confirmed this year in the case of Schmidt v. Slader, 263 Oregon Court of Appeals 197 (2014).
In Schmidt, the plaintiff alleged that he was sexually abused by a priest, Father Frank, in the 1950s, when plaintiff was seven or eight years old. Plaintiff sued the Archdiocese of Portland in 2002, about 50 years later. Plaintiff testified that beginning in 1999, he remembered roller skating with several friends and his siblings near St. Mary’s Church in the town of Mt. Angel. According to plaintiff, he fell down and scraped his knees, and Frank, who was wearing his robes, offered to help him. Frank helped plaintiff into the basement of the church, sat him on a table, and violently sodomized him. Id. at 199, n. 3. Continue reading