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Moses v. the Diocese of Colorado

Supreme Court of Colorado. EN BANC CHIEF JUSTICE ROVIRA concurs in part and dissents in part
Nov 15, 1993
863 P.2d 310 (Colo. 1993)


holding that the First Amendment did not relieve a church from liability for breach of fiduciary duty where a priest engaged in sexual relations with a mentally ill parishioner he was counseling

Summary of this case from Fortin v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland


No. 92SA415

Decided November 15, 1993

Appeal from the District Court, City County of Denver, Honorable Herbert L. Stern III, Judge


Holland, Seelen Pagliuca, Joyce A. Seelen, Denver, Colorado Jean E. Dubofsky, P.C. Boulder, Colorado Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant

Cooper Kelley, P.C., Paul D. Cooper, John R. Mann, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Defendants-Appellants and Cross-Appellees

This appeal is from a judgment entered on a jury verdict awarding Mary E. Moses, who is now known as Mary Moses Tenantry (Tenantry), $1,216,500 as damages against the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, a Colorado corporation (Diocese), and Bishop William Frey (Bishop Frey). Tenantry was a parishioner at St. Philip and St. James Episcopal Church in Denver. She sought counseling from Father Paul Robinson (Father Robinson), who was then an assistant priest at St. Philip and St. James. Although Tenantry had a long history of mental illness, her condition was relatively stable at the time she began her counseling with Father Robinson. While counseling and advising Tenantry, Father Robinson entered into a sexual relationship with her that included multiple acts of both fellatio and cunnilingus. When her relationship with Father Robinson ended, Tenantry suffered a relapse and aggravation of her mental illness. Shortly thereafter, her marriage ended in divorce. Tenantry is now under psychiatric care which will be required indefinitely.

The jury found that Bishop Frey and the Diocese breached their fiduciary duties to the plaintiff, the Diocese negligently hired and negligently supervised Father Robinson, and was vicariously liable for Robinson's breach of his fiduciary duty to Tenantry. The award consisted of $598,000 for economic damage and $618,000 for noneconomic damage. The trial judge reduced the verdict for noneconomic damage by $118,000 to comply with the statutory limit of $500,000 imposed by section 13-21-102.5, 6A C.R.S. (1987 1993 Supp.).

On appeal, the Diocese and Bishop Frey assert that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forecloses recovery for clergy malpractice and an award against them for the damages sustained by Tenantry. If the First Amendment defense is valid, the remaining issues on appeal are moot. In our view, the First Amendment does not grant the Diocese and its employees immunity from liability in this case. The Diocese and Bishop Frey also assert that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's findings. We disagree in part. The evidence was sufficient to support Tenantry's claims for breach of fiduciary duty, negligent hiring, and supervision. The evidence, however, was not sufficient to prove that Robinson was acting within the scope of his employment when he engaged in oral sex with Tenantry; therefore, the Diocese is not vicariously liable for Robinson's sexual acts with Tenantry.

On appeal, all of the evidence must be construed to support the jury's verdict if such construction is reasonable. Lambrecht v. Archibald, 119 Colo. 356, 203 P.2d 897 (1949); see also City of Aurora v. Loveless, 639 P.2d 1061 (Colo. 1981) (stating if reasonable, court must interpret evidence adduced at trial to make the jury's verdict consistent).

Tenantry asserts in her cross appeal that the trial court should not have reduced the noneconomic damage award because section 13-21-102.5, 6A C.R.S. (1987 1993 Supp.), is unconstitutional. Because we vacate the award predicated on vicarious liability, the noneconomic damage award does not exceed the statutory cap and the issue submitted on cross appeal is moot.

Section 13-21-102.5, 6A C.R.S. (1987 1993 Supp.), creates a "damage cap" for "noneconomic loss or injury." Subsection 3(b) provides that "[i]n no case shall the amount of such damages exceed five hundred thousand dollars." The jury awarded Tenantry $618,000 in noneconomic damages and the trial court reduced that award to $500,000 pursuant to the statute. Tenantry contends that section 13-21-102.5 violates tort victims' due process and equal protection rights and the open courts provision of the Colorado Constitution embodied in article II, section 6. Although we have upheld statutory damage caps as constitutional in the past, see State v. DeFoor, 824 P.2d 783 (Colo.) (upholding a cap on damages in an action against a public entity), cert. denied, 113 S. Ct. 483 (1992), we do not address the constitutionality of the $500,000 statutory damage cap because the jury erroneously found the Diocese vicariously liable for the breach of fiduciary duty by Father Robinson. When the erroneous portion of the award is vacated, the remainder of the jury award for noneconomic damages is $370,800. See infra note 26. Section 13-21-102.5(4) requires that the statutory cap "not be disclosed to a jury in any such action, but shall be imposed by the court before judgment." Therefore, the damage cap was applied by the trial judge after the jury awarded damages, and the jury's deliberation concerning the total damage award was not affected prior to the time the trial judge applied the statutory cap. Because the statutory cap could not have influenced the jury's damage award, no remand is necessary to determine the amount of damages the jury would have awarded had the trial court not applied the statutory cap. The statutory damage cap also limits an award for "noneconomic loss or injury" to $250,000 unless the court finds justification by clear and convincing evidence of damages which exceed that amount. The trial judge found by clear and convincing evidence that total noneconomic damages exceeded $250,000. The portion of the noneconomic damages awarded by the jury and supported by this decision remains over $250,000 and we agree with the trial court that there is clear and convincing evidence which justifies a noneconomic damage award over $250,000. The cross-appellant does not challenge the constitutionality of the $250,000 statutory cap.

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court on Tenantry's claims for breach of fiduciary duty and negligent hiring and supervision. We reverse the judgment for damages against the Diocese and Bishop Frey based upon the claim of vicarious liability, and remand with directions.


Tenantry and one of her older sisters, Joyce Mohr (Mohr), were sexually abused by their father when they were children. Expert testimony established that Tenantry developed a multiple personality disorder as protection against the sexual abuse by her father. Before Tenantry entered grade school she had developed several separate identities.

A multiple personality disorder is a protective mechanism which may be employed by children who suffer extensive abuse. The mechanism disassociates the child from the abusive acts.

Tenantry married Geoffrey Moses (Moses) in 1974. Moses knew of, and attempted to help Tenantry overcome, her mental illness. The couple were married for sixteen years and five children were born as issue of their marriage. Tenantry was hospitalized and attempted suicide in 1978 and 1979 because of her mental illness. While Tenantry was being treated for her mental illness, there were periods during which she was permitted to visit her children only if an outside party supervised the visitation. Father Vernon Myers (Father Myers), the priest at St. Philip and St. James Parish, often supervised these visits. The association between Father Myers and Tenantry existed before he supervised the visits because he performed the marriage ceremony for Moses and Tenantry and baptized all of their children.

After treatment for her mental illness concluded in 1979, Tenantry became an active member of St. Philip and St. James Parish. Two of Tenantry's sisters were also members of the parish and together the three sisters participated in social events, taught Bible classes, and supervised children's programs. The husbands of the three sisters were also involved in the activities of the parish and all three men served on the parish vestry — the governing board of the church. By all accounts, Tenantry's mental illness appeared to be in remission during the period that she and members of her family actively participated in church programs and activities. Tenantry's membership in the church started the longest period of improved mental health she had ever experienced.

In 1984, the vestry of St. Philip and St. James decided to hire an assistant priest because Father Myers was nearing retirement. Father Myers suggested the vestry interview Father Robinson, a newly ordained priest who would help the vestry accomplish its goal of attracting young families to the parish. Father Myers interviewed Father Robinson during his ordination period and knew that Bishop Frey considered Father Robinson to be "bishop material." Neither Bishop Frey nor the Diocese provided the church vestry with any of the information about Father Robinson contained in the Diocese's personnel files. Included in Father Robinson's personnel file were reports of psychological examinations that were conducted as a result of Father Robinson seeking ordination. These reports indicated Father Robinson had problems with depression, low self-esteem, and possessed a "sexual identification ambiguity."

Father Robinson was selected by the vestry to begin his duties as assistant priest at St. Philip and St. James Parish in June 1984. Tenantry and her husband were among many of the young couples who befriended Father Robinson and his wife. An outgrowth of Father Robinson's interaction with the young members of the parish was that a number of the women in the parish, including Tenantry and Mohr, were attracted to, and infatuated with, Father Robinson. Tenantry's brother-in-law, Michael Padbury (Padbury), warned Father Robinson that both Tenantry and Mohr were infatuated with him.

Among the difficulties Tenantry experienced as a result of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child was her inability to understand appropriate behavior or recognize accepted boundaries with respect to her relationships with men.

In September 1984, Tenantry sought counseling with Father Robinson to discuss her fear that she was responsible for the cerebral palsy that afflicted her youngest child. At the time of these counseling sessions, Father Robinson knew Tenantry and Mohr had been sexually abused as children. Tenantry's counseling sessions with Father Robinson always ended with a prayer and a hug. The hugs eventually led to fondling, and finally, to mutual oral sex. On at least one occasion, Tenantry and Father Robinson attempted to have intercourse but were interrupted. During the course of the sexual relationship, they never had intercourse.

In mid-1985, Tenantry told Mohr about her sexual relationship with Father Robinson. Mohr confronted Father Robinson who at first denied, but then admitted, there was a sexual relationship. Father Robinson concluded his conversation with Mohr by indicating that Mohr must keep his sexual relationship with Tenantry a secret because the conversation constituted a confession. Despite Father Robinson's attempt to keep Mohr from disclosing the sexual relationship with Tenantry, Mohr discussed the conversation with her husband. While visiting another Episcopal church, Mohr and her husband consulted Father Bruce McNabb (Father McNabb) regarding whether Father Robinson had made a confession and what course of action they should take to help Tenantry. Father McNabb told Mohr she had not received a confession and was not required to keep the relationship confidential. He recommended that Mohr and her husband immediately tell Father Robinson's superior, Father Myers, about the relationship.

Acting on Father McNabb's recommendation, Mohr and her husband saw Father Myers. Mohr told Father Myers about the sexual relationship between Tenantry and Father Robinson and about Father Robinson's attempt to keep the relationship a secret. Mohr advised Father Myers that she had consulted Father McNabb and that he told her Father Robinson could not force her to be quiet. Father Myers' reaction to the sexual relationship shocked both Mohr and her husband. Father Myers was angered that Mohr did not keep Father Robinson's secret and scolded her for discussing the relationship with her husband and Father McNabb. Father Myers said that Father Robinson was bishop material and that Mohr and her husband should not ruin his career. Father Myers also asked them why they were trying to destroy Father Robinson and said that Father Robinson's actions were not that bad and that Tenantry had not been injured. As a result of this meeting, Mohr's husband resigned from the vestry and the couple decided to disassociate themselves from the St. Philip and St. James parish.

Evidence presented at trial indicated that Myers had known of the relationship before being confronted by Mohr. Specifically, Myers had ordered Tenantry to stop talking to Robinson before Tenantry spoke to Mohr about the relationship.

After the meeting, Father Myers confronted Father Robinson and Father Robinson admitted to having oral sex with Tenantry. Father Myers told Father Robinson to be more careful in the future. Once Father Myers had spoken with Father Robinson, he involved the Diocese in the matter. No action was taken by the Diocese to help Tenantry after Father Myers' meeting with Mohr and her husband.

Father Myers was impeached at trial concerning whether he notified the Diocese of Tenantry and Robinson's relationship immediately after Mohr's allegations in August of 1985. In deposition, Father Myers stated that as a result of the meeting with Mohr, he confronted Robinson and then immediately involved the bishop because the bishop should be involved in any serious matter. This evidence contradicts the Diocese's assertion that it was not aware of the matter until March of 1986.

Mohr and her husband related the content and outcome of their discussion with Father Myers to Padbury, who was a member of the vestry and was married to Tenantry's oldest sister. Padbury decided that his strong relationship with Father Myers would enable him to compel Father Myers to address the issue. At a vestry retreat, Padbury confronted Father Myers about the relationship between Tenantry and Father Robinson seeking to understand what had happened. Father Myers told Padbury that he did not understand why Mohr and her husband were so upset and that there were worse things a priest could do. The response caused Padbury to question Father Myers about what action the church had taken. Father Myers indicated that he had received a "satisfactory response" from Father Robinson and was not pursuing the matter. Both Father Myers and Father Robinson attempted to ignore the situation. Father Myers also ordered Tenantry not to talk to Father Robinson.

In an attempt to separate herself from Father Robinson, Tenantry persuaded her husband to leave St. Philip and St. James and to attend Ascension Episcopal Church. By the fall of 1985, the traditional Tenantry family gatherings after church had disintegrated and Tenantry's mental illness resurfaced. The pressure of maintaining the secrecy of the affair caused Tenantry not only to deteriorate mentally but also to become physically ill. By February 1986, Father Robinson and Tenantry's sexual relationship had ended.

After leaving the church, Tenantry learned that Father Robinson had received a call to be the pastor at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs. She asked her husband, Moses, about his feelings concerning Father Robinson's new position. Unaware of any relationship between his wife and Father Robinson, Moses said he was sorry to see a friend go, but it was a good job and he was happy for Father Robinson. Over the course of the next few days, Tenantry continued to tell her husband she was upset by Father Robinson's appointment and eventually told him of her sexual relationship with Father Robinson.

Moses confronted Father Robinson and Father Robinson denied, and then admitted, the existence of a sexual relationship. Moses told Father Robinson he intended to call Bishop Frey and tell him of the relationship. Father Robinson then called Father Myers who arranged to see Moses. Moses demanded Father Myers inform Bishop Frey about the relationship. Bishop Frey scheduled a meeting on March 4, 1986, with Moses, Father Robinson, and Father Myers. On March 3, 1986, the day before the scheduled meeting, Bishop Frey signed a letter which promoted Father Robinson to the position of pastor of the Colorado Springs church.

Bishop Frey did not inform the vestry of Father Robinson's newly assigned parish about the allegations against Father Robinson despite the fact that Bishop Frey knew that the prior priest assigned to the Colorado Springs parish had left that church because of his illicit sexual relationship with a parishioner. An expert who testified at trial expressed the opinion that the likelihood of a priest repeating sexual relationships with parishioners is fifty percent.

At the March 4 meeting, Father Robinson admitted to a sexual relationship with Tenantry which included oral sex but not intercourse. Bishop Frey asked Moses if he would be content to let the Bishop supervise "whatever needed to happen." Moses acquiesced to Bishop Frey assuming control of the matter. Bishop Frey arranged to meet with Tenantry in order to resolve the matter. After Moses left, Bishop Frey informed Father Robinson that if this was a one-time episode, he would not mention it to the Colorado Springs parish. The Bishop also gave Father Robinson a book entitled "Affair Prevention" and told him to get counseling and to advise him immediately if the matter came up in the Colorado Springs parish.

Moses returned home and informed Tenantry that Bishop Frey wanted to see her. Tenantry was terrified about the loss of her salvation and feared having to meet with the Bishop. At their meeting, Tenantry described her past to Bishop Frey and explained that she had an intimate sexual relationship with Father Robinson. Tenantry discussed her fear of not having salvation because of her acts and Bishop Frey granted Tenantry absolution. At trial, Bishop Frey testified that at this meeting his impression of Tenantry was that she was fragile and had a sense of guilt that bordered on pathological because she blamed herself for the relationship.

Subsequent to Tenantry's commencement of her legal action for damages in February 1990, Bishop Frey provided a statement to the newspapers in which he described Father Robinson as "a fine priest" and Tenantry as "an unfortunate lady."

Tenantry explained to Bishop Frey that she still loved Father Robinson. Bishop Frey told Tenantry that if she loved Father Robinson she should not talk to anyone about her relationship with him, never go near the church, and never talk to Father Robinson again. Tenantry received permission from Bishop Frey to speak to a priest or counselor. Tenantry told Bishop Frey that she had discussed the relationship with her sister and asked if she needed to stop talking with her. Bishop Frey stated that the prohibition on talking to people included Tenantry's sister. Tenantry then asked if she could talk to her husband and Bishop Frey gave her permission to talk to him. The Bishop took no further action to assist Tenantry after this meeting.

Soon after her meeting with Bishop Frey, Tenantry started a day-care business and stopped participating in church activities. In 1989, she encountered Father Robinson by chance at Denver General Hospital. Tenantry reported the meeting to her husband. The reoccurrence of contact between Tenantry and Father Robinson resulted in dissolution of Tenantry's marriage. In May 1990, Tenantry and Moses separated, and in October 1990, they divorced. Subsequently, Tenantry's mental health deteriorated; she stopped spending time with her family, and her day-care business failed. At trial, mental health experts testified that the discovery of Bishop Frey's promotion of Father Robinson led to the unraveling of Tenantry's personality structure. Tenantry was diagnosed as suffering a recurrence of her multiple personality disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

These experts testified that the church provided Tenantry with a structure that helped her deal with multiple personality disorder and taught her to organize her life and to act in an acceptable way. The structure provided by the church broke down as a result of Tenantry's sexual relationship with Father Robinson because she lost her capacity to trust in God and the church. Bishop Frey aggravated the breakdown in trust when he (1) allowed her to believe that she was primarily at fault; (2) did not ask to hear her side of the affair; (3) did not ask her how she felt about the relationship or how she planned to deal with it; and (4) requested that she maintain secrecy about the relationship.


In February 1990, Tenantry commenced a civil action against the Diocese and Father Robinson. Tenantry later amended her complaint to include Bishop Frey. Subsequently, Father Robinson filed for bankruptcy and Tenantry's claims against him were severed from the case. The jury returned a verdict finding the defendants liable for breach of fiduciary duty and negligent hiring and supervision and awarded Tenantry damages of $728,100; the jury also found the defendants vicariously liable for Father Robinson's breach of fiduciary duty and awarded $488,400.

We affirm the judgment of the trial court on the issues of breach of fiduciary duty and negligent hiring and supervision. We reverse the judgment on vicarious liability.


For the first time on appeal, the defendants have formulated First Amendment defenses that were not raised in the trial court and allegedly bar Tenantry's claims for the injuries she suffered as a result of the conduct of Father Robinson, Bishop Frey, and the Diocese. The First Amendment issues raised on appeal were not properly preserved in the trial court. However, it is within our discretion to review the First Amendment defenses. C.A.R. 1(d); see Mt. Emmons Mining Co. v. Town of Crested Butte, 690 P.2d 231, 238 (Colo. 1984) (stating the exercise of discretion to notice an issue not raised below "is especially appropriate in a case involving a record that does not clearly establish the evidentiary basis for the rendition of a final judgment on substantial constitutional claims"). The First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not grant religious organizations absolute immunity from tort liability. Liability can attach for breach of a fiduciary duty, negligent hiring and supervision. Destefano v. Grabrian, 763 P.2d 275, 284, 286-87 (Colo. 1988).

The defendants' only argument at trial regarding the First Amendment was it barred admission of two pamphlets that described the hierarchical structure of the Episcopal Church. The defendants submitted a trial brief in support of their position that the pamphlets should not be admitted. In their brief, the defendants asserted that any evidence of church law or discipline should not be admitted. The defendants phrased the summary of this argument very broadly in their Rule 16 disclosure statement — "the First Amendment prevents the court from resolving any claims based upon interpretations of `church law.'" The trial briefs and the record show that the defendants' only argument at trial was that the First Amendment barred admission of church documents in a civil court proceeding. The defendants did not argue at trial that the First Amendment forbids claims of breach of fiduciary duty, negligent hiring and supervision and vicarious liability against a religious organization. We have consistently held, with few exceptions, issues not raised in the trial court cannot form the basis of an appeal. See, e.g., Paine, Webber, Jackson Curtis, Inc. v. Adams, 718 P.2d 508, 513 (Colo. 1986) (recognizing that appellate challenges to issues that do not call into question the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction and that are not raised in the trial court are waived and will not be reviewed for the first time on appeal). The fact that the non-preserved issue involves questions of constitutional analysis, interpretation, or application is not dispositive of whether we will address the issue on appeal. See, e.g., Massey v. People, 656 P.2d 658, 662 (Colo. 1982) (declining to address a constitutional argument on appeal that was not presented for determination by the trial court).


The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any "law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." U.S. Const. amend. I. The amendment "embraces two concepts — freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society." Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303-04 (1940).

Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 679 (1871), established the doctrine of judicial abstention in matters involving court interpretation of ecclesiastical law. Watson involved a struggle between two factions of a local Presbyterian church for control of the local church's property. Id. at 684-85. The governing body of the Presbyterian Church of the United States ordered all members of local congregations who believed in the divine character of slavery to "repent and forsake these sins." Id. at 691. A minority faction of one local congregation deemed this order a deviation from the church's original doctrine. The minority faction alleged they were the true church and should control their local church's property. An ecclesiastical judiciary of the Presbyterian Church interpreted the church's law and decided which of the disputants should have possession of the local church property. The losing faction sought a contrary determination in the civil courts. The Supreme Court held that civil courts could not deprive religious bodies of the right to construe their own church laws.

Watson was decided prior to the application of the First Amendment to the states. The case, however, is the basis for later cases that adopted its rationale in applying the doctrine of judicial abstention to the states on a constitutional basis.

The Court has continued to define what are matters of purely ecclesiastical concern and has applied the doctrine of judicial abstention to cases that do not involve property disputes. See Bouldin v. Alexander, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 131 (1872) (stating civil courts have no power to question ordinary acts of church discipline, requirements for membership, or whether excommunication is proper in specific cases); Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94 (1952) (holding state statute that declared one faction of the Russian Orthodox Church to be the owner of certain church property an unconstitutional intrusion on the decision making ability of the church authorities); Presbyterian Church v. Mary Elizabeth Blue Hull Memorial Presbyterian Church, 393 U.S. 440 (1968) (holding if intra-church property dispute required interpreting and weighing church doctrine, a court could not intervene; if, however, neutral principles of law could be applied without determining underlying question of religious doctrine and practice, a court could intervene); Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696 (1976) (forbidding judicial inquiry into whether the church judicatory body properly followed its own rules of procedure in removing a bishop from office).

Kedroff was the first case to come before the Supreme Court involving the doctrine of judicial abstention following the application of the First Amendment's religion clauses to the states. See Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940) (specifying that First Amendment, as to religion, was made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment).

The principle of these cases, as this court has recognized, is that courts must not become embroiled in disputes involving a religious organization if the court would be required to interpret or weigh church doctrine. See Bishop and Diocese of Colorado v. Mote, 716 P.2d 85, 102 (Colo. 1986) (stating that Jones and its progeny do not require a court to abstain from religious controversy "as long as the inquiry does not require resolutions of disputed issues of religious doctrine"). Mote held that Colorado law required application of the "neutral principles" doctrine when a court is resolving a religious property dispute. Id. at 96. The "neutral principles" doctrine was first announced in Blue Hull, 393 U.S. at 449, and allows a court to apply the neutral laws of the state to religious organizations but forbids a court from resolving disputed issues of religious doctrine and practice. In Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979), the Supreme Court of the United States explained, "[t]he neutral-principles approach cannot be said to `inhibit' the free exercise of religion, any more than do other neutral provisions of state law governing the manner in which churches own property, hire employees, or purchase goods." Id. at 606.

Even though Mote involved a church property dispute, we noted that during the turn of the century this court had held that religious corporations, "are subject to the principles of the common law and the practice and procedure applicable to corporations under the general incorporation laws, so far as the same are pertinent." Mote, 716 P.2d at 98 (quoting Horst v. Traudt, 43 Colo. 445, 96 P. 259 (1908)). We recognized in Mote that Horst was not controlling precedent but we read Horst as general guidance and "as a persuasive statement that this court should analyze legal issues that arise out of church organizations in the same manner as we would analyze those issues if they arose out of any other corporation or voluntary association." Mote, 716 P.2d at 99.

Application of a secular standard to secular conduct that is tortious is not prohibited by the Constitution. See Mote, 716 P.2d at 98-99; Horst, 43 Colo. at 448, 96 P. at 259; Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) (stating that even religiously motivated conduct is not immune from neutral laws of general applicability). The Supreme Court has not granted churches broad immunity against being sued in civil courts. See Destefano, 763 P.2d at 284 n. 9; see generally Carl H. Esbeck, Tort Claims Against Churches and Ecclesiastical Officers: The First Amendment Considerations, 89 W. Va. L. Rev. 1 (1986). Civil actions against clergy members and their superiors that involve claims of a breach of fiduciary duty, negligent hiring and supervision, and vicarious liability are actionable if they are supported by competent evidence in the record. Destefano, 763 P.2d at 284, 286-87.

The facts of Tenantry's case indicate that an organization, confronted with the misdeeds of one of its agents, assumed control of the matter and in the process of protecting itself injured a vulnerable individual. The defendants have not argued that Bishop Frey's decision to assume control and resolve the problems created by Father Robinson and Tenantry's relationship was a matter of purely ecclesiastical concern. Tenantry's claims in this case do not involve disputes within the church and are not based solely on ecclesiastical or disciplinary matters which would call into question the trial court's power to render a judgment against the defendants. Our decision does not require a reading of the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church or any other documents of church governance. Because the facts of this case do not require interpreting or weighing church doctrine and neutral principles of law can be applied, the First Amendment is not a defense against Tenantry's claims.


On appeal, Bishop Frey and the Diocese have urged this court to overrule Destefano v. Grabrian, 763 P.2d 275 (Colo. 1988). The defendants contend the claims of breach of fiduciary duty and clergy malpractice are merely different names for professional liability. Their position is that because we refused to recognize a claim for clergy malpractice in Destefano, and all of Tenantry's claims relating to the negligence of the church and the acts of the church's agents are in reality claims for clergy malpractice, Tenantry's case should have been dismissed. We have declared that breach of fiduciary duty and clergy malpractice are not identical claims and involve different elements. Sufficient evidence existed to allow the jury to find that a fiduciary relationship existed between Bishop Frey and the Diocese and Tenantry and that the breach of the fiduciary duty caused Tenantry's injuries.

Destefano held that a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty was separate and distinct from a claim of clergy malpractice. The fundamental difference between the two causes of action is the former is a breach of trust and does not require a professional relationship or a professional standard of care, while the latter is an action for negligence based on a professional relationship and a professional standard of care. In Destefano, we held the defendant owed a fiduciary duty to the plaintiff that "was created by his undertaking to counsel [the plaintiff]." Destefano v. Grabrian, 763 P.2d 275, 284 (Colo. 1988). The position of trust occupied by the defendant, when coupled with his positive act of counseling the plaintiff, resulted in a duty to the plaintiff. The relevant common facts in Destefano and Tenantry's case are not the profession of the defendants; the relevant facts are that the defendants in both cases occupied a position of superiority, assumed a duty to act in good faith, and then breached their duty. In Colorado, breach of fiduciary duty is actionable, clergy malpractice is not. Id. at 284-86.


A prerequisite to finding a fiduciary duty is the existence of a fiduciary relationship. "A fiduciary relation exists between two persons when one of them is under a duty to act for or to give advice for the benefit of another upon matters within the scope of the relation." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 874 cmt. a (1979). A fiduciary relationship may arise where one party occupies a superior position relative to another. Stuart M. Speiser et al., The American Law of Torts, § 36:81 (1983) (stating that there are two ways to find a fiduciary relationship: it may presumed from the relationship of the parties; or, it may exist as a result of the superiority and influence that accompanies a repose of trust); see also Bailey v. Allstate Ins. Co., 844 P.2d 1336 (Colo.App. 1992) (recognizing that although some relationships give rise to a fiduciary duty as a matter of law, e.g., attorney-client, the nature of the claim is a relationship of trust, confidence and reliance). Although a professional relationship can be used as evidence that one party has both the position and opportunity to influence the other party, a professional relationship is not a prerequisite to finding a fiduciary relationship. A fiduciary relationship can arise out of a relationship of blood, business, friendship, or association. Speiser et al., supra, § 36:81. The claim for breach of fiduciary duty in this case involves a party who used his superior position as a counselor, a bishop, and a final arbiter of problems with the clergy to the detriment of a vulnerable, dependent party.

The clergy-parishioner relationship is not necessarily a fiduciary relationship. It does, however, involve the type of interaction that creates trust and reliance. Courts have recognized the fiduciary nature of the clergy-parishioner relationship. See, e.g., Destefano, 763 P.2d at 284 (holding a priest who abuses his role as counselor can be liable for breach of fiduciary duty); Erickson v. Christenson, 781 P.2d 383, 386 (Or.App. 1988) (same); Adams v. Moore, 385 S.E.2d 799, 801 (N.C.App. 1989) (finding preacher owed fiduciary duty to parishioner and violated that duty by using his position and influence to obtain the deed to parishioner's home).

The existence of the fiduciary relationship is a question of fact for the jury. Paine, Webber, Jackson Curtis, Inc. v. Adams, 718 P.2d 508, 516-18 (Colo. 1986); Tschudy v. Amos C. Sudler Co., 158 Colo. 421, 426, 407 P.2d 877, 879 (1965). In this case, the jury was properly instructed on the requisite elements of a fiduciary relationship and determined a fiduciary relationship existed between Bishop Frey and Tenantry. The jury's determination of a factual issue will not be reversed if the record reveals a reasonable basis to support it. Alzado v. Blinder, Robinson Co., 752 P.2d 544 (Colo. 1988); Rupert v. Clayton Brokerage Co. of St. Louis, Inc., 737 P.2d 1106 (Colo. 1987); City of Aurora v. Loveless, 639 P.2d 1061 (Colo. 1981).

The trial court instructed the jury to consider, among other things, the extent to which Tenantry trusted the defendants; whether Tenantry's repose of trust was justified; whether the Diocese or Bishop Frey knew, or should have known, that Tenantry was relying on Bishop Frey to look out for her interests; whether the Diocese or Bishop Frey invited, accepted, or acquiesced in Tenantry's trust; and, whether the Diocese or Bishop Frey undertook to represent her interests. The defendants did not object to these instructions.

In the meeting between Bishop Frey and Tenantry the parties did not occupy equal positions. Bishop Frey held a position of authority in the church and had the power to resolve conflicts in the church. In addition, Bishop Frey's role during the meeting was as a counselor to Tenantry, not as a representative of the Diocese or Father Robinson. If Bishop Frey was acting only for the Diocese and Father Robinson, he failed to convey that fact to Tenantry and led her to believe he was acting in her interest.

Bishop Frey had ordered a meeting with Tenantry and Tenantry believed he had the power to decide if she would lose her salvation. Tenantry was mentally unstable and Bishop Frey recognized that she was fragile and had a pathological sense of guilt. The superior position of Bishop Frey and the power he had over Tenantry is evinced by Tenantry's request for permission to talk to people in her family and for special permission to speak to her husband. The record supports the jury's finding that Bishop Frey was in a superior position and was able to exert substantial influence over Tenantry.


An unequal relationship does not automatically create a fiduciary duty. In order to be liable the superior party must assume a duty to act in the dependent party's best interest. See Hill v. Bache Halsey Stuart Shields Inc., 790 F.2d 817 (10th Cir. 1986) (recognizing that fiduciary liability requires not only a repose of trust, but an assumption of a duty and breach of that duty); First Nat'l Bank of Meeker v. Theos, 794 P.2d 1055 (Colo.App. 1990) (same). The defendants assert they are not liable because Bishop Frey and the Diocese did not take any action that would allow the jury to conclude they assumed a duty to Tenantry. There is sufficient evidence that the defendants assumed a duty to Tenantry when they acted to resolve the problems that were the result of the relationship between Father Robinson and Tenantry.

Father Myers informed the Diocese of the relationship between Tenantry and Father Robinson as early as August of 1985. Father Myers stated he took no action after informing the Diocese because the Diocese had assumed control of the matter. The fact the Diocese had assumed control was reinforced by Bishop Frey's assumption of personal responsibility for the resolution of the matter. Bishop Frey asked Moses to rely on him to take care of "whatever needed to happen" to resolve the issues created by the sexual relationship between Tenantry and Father Robinson. Bishop Frey asked to speak to Tenantry to resolve the problem. The record supports the jury's finding that Bishop Frey and the Diocese assumed a duty on behalf of Tenantry.

One of the fiduciary's duties is the duty to deal "with utmost good faith and solely for the benefit" of the dependent party. Destefano, 763 P.2d at 284. Once a member of the clergy accepts the parishioner's trust and accepts the role of counsellor, a duty exists to act with the utmost good faith for the benefit of the parishioner. See Destefano, 763 P.2d at 284. The breach of the duty which the Diocese and Bishop Frey assumed is evinced by Bishop Frey's actions.

Bishop Frey had significant experience in addressing the issue of a priest's sexual involvement with a parishioner. During the course of his seventeen years as a bishop in Colorado, Bishop Frey had, on seven occasions, dealt with sexual relationships between a priest and a parishioner. Bishop Frey also knew of Tenantry's vulnerability. Despite his experience in handling issues of clergy misconduct and his knowledge of Tenantry's extreme vulnerability, Bishop Frey took no action to help Tenantry. Acting as the representative for the Diocese, Bishop Frey failed to assist Tenantry in understanding that she was not the only person responsible for her sexual relationship with Father Robinson. He did not recommend counseling for Tenantry but did recommend counseling for Father Robinson and ordered Father Robinson to make progress reports on the counseling. Bishop Frey's only action in regard to Tenantry was to bind her to secrecy. Thus, Bishop Frey assumed control of a situation that demanded he consider Tenantry's interests and then used Tenantry's trust to her detriment.

The record supports the jury's finding that a fiduciary relationship existed between Bishop Frey and Tenantry, that the Diocese and Bishop Frey assumed a duty toward Tenantry, and that the Diocese and Bishop Frey breached their duty.


Bishop Frey and the Diocese contend that the jury erred in finding the Diocese negligent in hiring and supervising Father Robinson and that the alleged negligence caused Tenantry's injuries. Bishop Frey and the Diocese maintain that there was no employment relationship between the Diocese and Father Robinson and even if there was, there was insufficient evidence in the record to support these negligence claims.

Frey and the Diocese also contend that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution was violated by the trial court when it admitted into evidence two pamphlets which helped establish the employment relationship between the Diocese and Robinson. As discussed supra part II, Tenantry's claims for negligent hiring and supervision are not barred by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution because neutral principles of law can be applied. In order to determine if an employer-employee relationship exists, we do not have to interpret or weigh church doctrine. See Bishop and Diocese of Colorado v. Mote, 716 P.2d 85, 95 (Colo. 1986) (quoting Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595, 604 (1979)) (Colorado, in adopting the `neutral-principles' doctrine, recognized "a civil court must take special care to scrutinize the [church] document in purely secular terms, and not to rely on religious precepts . . . .").


An employer may be liable for harm to others for negligently employing an improper person for a task which may involve a risk to others. Restatement (Second) of Agency § 213(b) (1958); Connes v. Molalla Transport System, Inc., 831 P.2d 1316, 1320 (Colo. 1992). It is axiomatic that a prerequisite to establishing negligent hiring is an employment or agency relationship. The existence of an agency relationship is ordinarily a question of fact to be determined by the fact finder. Stortroen v. Beneficial Fin. Co., 736 P.2d 391 (Colo. 1987); Marron v. Helmecke, 100 Colo. 364, 67 P.2d 1034 (1937). A court can only decide whether an agency relationship exists as a matter of law when the facts are not in dispute. Stortroen, 736 P.2d at 395; Smith v. Davis, 67 Colo. 128, 186 P. 519 (1920). The existence of an agency relationship can be proven by the conduct of the parties. Victorio Realty Group, Inc. v. Ironwood IX, 713 P.2d 424 (Colo.App. 1985); see also Restatement (Second) of Agency § 1 cmt. a (1958) (stating "[t]he relation of agency is created as the result of conduct"). Tenantry produced sufficient evidence to raise a factual dispute on the issue of the relationship between the Diocese and Father Robinson as well as the relationship between Bishop Frey and Father Robinson. Because a dispute existed, the trial court properly submitted the issue to the jury.

Almost invariably, in a claim for negligent hiring, the tort committed by the employee for which the employer may be held liable is an intentional tort committed outside the scope of employment. Connes v. Molalla Transport System, Inc., 831 P.2d 1316, 1321 (Colo. 1992). Torts committed within the scope of employment, however, may create vicarious liability. The tort of negligent hiring is a separate cause of action and does not involve vicarious liability. The principle of negligent hiring is based not on the rule of agency but on the law of torts and is therefore distinguishable from the agency doctrine of vicarious liability discussed infra in part IV. Id. at 1320-21 (quoting Di Cosala v. Kay, 450 A.2d 508, 515 (N.J. 1982)) ("Thus, the tort of negligent hiring addresses the risk created by exposing members of the public to a potentially dangerous individual, while the doctrine of respondeat superior is based on the theory that the employee is the agent or is acting for the employer. Therefore the scope of employment limitation on liability which is part of the respondeat superior doctrine is not implicit in the wrong of negligent hiring.").

Agency is ultimately a question of the intention of the parties and is evidenced by their acts and not on what the relationship is called. Granite State Fire Ins. Co. v. Mitton, 98 F. Supp. 706 (D. Colo. 1951), aff'd 196 F.2d 988 (10th Cir. 1952). What is critical is that the parties materially agree to enter into a particular relation to which the legal consequences of agency attach even though those consequences might not have been contemplated by the parties at the time of their agreement. Stortroen, 736 P.2d at 391. An "agent" is generally one who acts for, or in place of, another, or is entrusted with the business of another. Victorio Realty Group, Inc., 713 P.2d at 424.

The control a principal exercises over the manner of work performed by an agent is evidence that an agency relation exists. United States v. Young, 736 F.2d 565, 567-68 (10th Cir. 1983) rev'd on other grounds, 470 U.S. 1 (1985). No one factor, including control, is determinative. Dana's Housekeeping v. Butterfield, 807 P.2d 1218, 1220 (Colo.App. 1990). The most important factor in determining whether a person is an agent is "the right to control, not the fact of control." Id.; Olsen v. Bondurant Co., 759 P.2d 861, 864 (Colo.App. 1988).

For example, in Bradbury v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 815 F.2d 1356 (10th Cir. 1987), the court found sufficient control to support a jury finding of agency, albeit under a lesser standard, between the exploration company and a drilling company that had contracted to perform work as an independent contractor. The court found the following evidence established an agency relation between the drilling company (agent) and the exploration company (principal): (1) the drilling company drilled where the exploration company requested; (2) the exploration company made arrangements with local landowners to secure access and drilling rights for the drilling company; (3) an employee of the exploration company would receive complaints about the drilling company drilling on the wrong property; and, (4) that the exploration company had an employee at the drilling site on a daily basis indicating a supervisory role. Id. at 1360. The evidence in this case establishes sufficient control to support the jury finding of agency.

At trial, sufficient evidence was presented to establish that the structure of the Episcopal Church was such that the Diocese and Bishop Frey had and exercised the right of control over the manner of work performed by a priest as well as the hiring, compensation, counseling performed by the priest and discipline of the priest. The evidence was sufficient, in this case, to support the finding of an agency relation between the Diocese and Father Robinson.

The evidence presented at trial shows that the structure of the Episcopal Church is basically hierarchal. A pamphlet distributed by the Episcopalian Church titled "About Being an Episcopalian" (Exhibit 25) contains a chart of the "Structure of the Episcopal Church." The chart graphically shows that the bishop presides over the Diocese and the priests. A priest presides over the parish "subject to the bishop's approval." In "The Episcopal Church: Essential Facts" another pamphlet admitted during the trial (Exhibit 24), the Episcopal Church defines the role of priests: "Priests (also known as presbyters) are ordained and consecrated to assist the bishop in overseeing the Church." The pamphlet sets forth that the diocese "is governed by its bishop and a diocesan convention composed of clergy of the diocese and lay persons elected by the parishes." Vestries call rectors to serve only after consultation with the bishop. Additionally, the bishop signs a letter promoting a priest to a pastor of a parish.

The dissent distinguishes the hiring of a rector from the hiring of an assistant priest and points to evidence that the rector supervises the day-to-day duties of the assistant priest, and only the rector can terminate the assistant priest. This evidence was controverted by an expert in pastoral care who testified on cross-examination: Q: As a matter of fact, in the Episcopal Church, you are familiar with the fact that the bishop of an Episcopal Church does not have the right to veto [the choice of] an assistant, a curate, I am talking about a curate [assistant priest] now, not a priest. A: If you are using the term "veto" which is not a church term to refer to some sort of canon which says you can say no, yes. If you are talking about the effect of the ability to veto, you are wrong. The reality is that the bishop can influence that choice quite easily. Even if we assume, arguendo, that the rector has exclusive control over an assistant priest, the rector's acts are imputed to the Diocese under the principles of agency. The Diocese and the bishop have substantial control over the rector and the rector and the Diocese, in turn, have control over the assistant priest. If the rector is a subagent of the bishop, an agent of the Diocese, and the assistant priest is a subagent of either the bishop or the rector, the actions of the rector and assistant priest are imputed to Bishop Frey and the Diocese. See Bradbury, 815 F.2d at 1360 (stating that because an employee of the principal exploration company supervised the day-to-day activities of an "independent contractor" drilling company, evidence existed of an agency relationship between the exploration company and the drilling company); see also Restatement (Second) of Agency § 5 cmt. d (1958) ("A subagent performing acts which the appointing agent has authorized him to perform in accordance with an authorization from the principal is an agent of the principal . . . . Furthermore, the subagent stands in a fiduciary relation to the principal, and is subject to all the liabilities of an agent to the principal . . . .").

Other evidence presented at trial establishes the relationship among the rector, the bishop, the diocese, and the assistant priest. The rector supervises an assistant priest's counseling duties which are specifically prescribed by regulations promulgated by the Diocese. In addition, the rector in this case stated that he reported to the bishop and that the bishop made final decisions on discipline. Father Robinson testified that when a priest needs pastoral care, the priest looks to the bishop. The Diocese has independent responsibility for the employment of priests. The bishop oversees ordination, discipline, counseling, the maintenance of personnel files and the provision of information with respect to hiring. Vestries rely on the Diocese to prepare and educate candidates, to obtain psychological evaluations of candidates for ordination, and provide information about individuals who are being considered for clergy positions in the parish. While the individual priests and parishes may be independently responsible for their day-to-day activities, the Diocese exercises an employment option in the hiring of its pastors.

Gary Richard Schoener (Schoener), an expert in pastoral counseling and care and treatment of priests who have had sexual contact with parishioners, testified that the structure of the Episcopal Church was such that the Diocese had substantial control over hiring, compensation, counseling by priests, and discipline of priests.

Schoener testified that his services had been utilized by the Episcopal Church on a number of occasions and that he serves on a faculty that trains bishops, priests, and lay people to be leaders in the Episcopal church. In addition, the Episcopal House of Bishops, which Schoener described as a national office that supports bishops around the country, refers cases of sexual exploitation of parishioners to him. The cost for instructing the diocese on issues such as counseling the pastor and communicating to the parishioners is paid for by the House of Bishops.

Schoener also testified that the Diocese is represented by the bishop. His testimony included a description of the bishop's role in the Diocese's hiring process:

First of all, the diocese and specifically the Bishop basically keeps some degree of awareness of what is going on in the training of a potential priest. The priest sent from here to a seminary stays in contact, periodically lets the bishop know how things are going in the seminary training or in the practical experience that is connected with that. In addition, periodic reports are made by the seminary or the people overseeing the actual pastoral counselor training experience to the bishop describing how the person is doing, how they are progressing and including problems or inadequacies in their work. The diocese does set policies and standards for the review of the person once they have finished seminary, and the question is are we going to have one of our churches hire them.

(Emphasis added.) He described the mechanism that "the diocese through the bishop" uses to evaluate the individuals who have completed seminary and seek employment. Part of the process includes having the potential priest undergo psychological evaluations. The Diocese hires a psychologist to do the evaluation and, in addition to the psychologist's own report, the Diocese requires the psychologist to complete a form supplied by the Diocese. Thus, the Diocese has a mechanism for directing the psychologist's assessment.

Because the Diocese assumes this screening role, it keeps all the records on the candidates. The Diocese's file led Schoener to conclude: [The Diocese] had a fair degree of knowledge of his background during his training process, some of the problems [Father Robinson] had . . . . they had as is their job, helped work out a game plan for him to get a job, to get a decent salary, and served in the role as a helper to he and his family, to help him come back to Colorado and get a position and to get paid decently.

Schoener acknowledged that the vestries make the final hiring decision but "[t]he vestries or the managing bodies of the Episcopal congregation [are] counting on the bishop for checking out the clergy. Although they do the actual hiring, they assume they are being given candidates who have a clean bill of health." Schoener noted vestries "don't do the sort of screening that an employer might do with a certain amount of detailed background check. That's presumed to be done by the diocese." He explained the control the Diocese has over the hiring process by noting, "it is the bishop and the diocese that determines in effect who is available to be called by a congregation [i.e.,] to be considered to be hired. You can't just submit your name because you finished a seminary and be available to be hired."

The evidence of the Diocese's control does not end with the evidence of its substantial input in the hiring decisions. The bishop's role, Schoener said, also includes input into a priest's compensation:

the bishop is expected to, and in this case in fact did, look after the well-being of priests and their families as regards what kind of money they get paid. For example, the bishop may not concur with an offer being made to a priest simply because the pay is not adequate or benefits are not adequate. And this file demonstrates that quite well. There is quite a bit of correspondence around money and benefits, and that's the key thing that the priest looks to the bishop to help with . . . .

(Emphasis added.)

The bishop's control over the manner in which priests conduct their activities also includes the bishop's substantial input on discipline decisions. Schoener testified that the bishop could propose discipline and because of his "considerable influence," the vestry would comply with his recommendation:

I guarantee you if you want the bishop to walk over to the vestry, which is the managing body, and say you have a problem here. We have to do something about it. He has to go on medical leave for a period of time until we sort this out. The likelihood the vestry will say no is very, very slim. It is an extraordinary rather rare case where if a bishop says this is what you really should do, they don't do it. Now, bishops come to me with frustrations sometimes because the churches don't do it quickly enough. The bishop often realizes the kind of liability the Diocese has and wants something done quickly, beyond dragging their feet. I haven't known a Diocese or congregation at any time to say no [to the bishop].

He pointed out that Bishop Frey addressed seven cases of sexual misconduct by priests and that his recommendations regarding discipline had been followed in all seven cases. Schoener's testimony is supported by the testimony of Father Myers who acknowledged that the bishop is the final authority in all disciplinary matters.

In addition to controlling certain aspects of hiring, compensation, and discipline, the Diocese also controls and supervises the duties of priests in their role as counselors. Schoener stated that the Diocese sets standards and rules regarding pastoral counseling and that priests "look to the diocese for some rules around pastoral counseling, . . . that's where they see the rules coming from." Schoener specifically noted that Bishop Frey indicated he had given talks about national issues or standards to the priests in the Diocese. In addition, Father Farr testified that the Diocese had specific printed regulations on pastoral counseling and that these regulations describe the form counseling should take. The regulations include such details as how appointments are to be kept, what attire is to be worn, where in the room the prayer book and desk should be, and even how the pastor should sit.

All of these facts indicate that a priest is not independent of the Diocese but is controlled by the Diocese and the bishop. The priest's education is monitored by the bishop, he is put through a screening for hire by the Diocese which includes psychological evaluation. The priest's compensation is affected by the bishop, the priest's discipline is controlled by the bishop, and every part of the form of the priest's counseling is regulated by the Diocese. The evidence at trial created a factual issue regarding whether an agency relationship existed. The trial court properly submitted this issue to the jury for determination and the jury found that there was an agency relationship between Father Robinson and the Diocese.

Because an agency or employment relationship existed between the Diocese and Father Robinson, and Father Robinson's duties included a close relationship with parishioners, the Diocese could be liable for negligent hiring and supervision. Liability of the employer is predicated on the employer's antecedent ability to recognize a potential employee's "attribute[s] of character or prior conduct" which would create an undue risk of harm to those with whom the employee came in contact in executing his employment responsibilities. Connes, 831 P.2d at 1321. An employer has a duty to exercise reasonable care in making his decision to hire. Connes, 831 P.2d at 1320; Island City Flying Service v. General Elec. Credit Corp., 585 So.2d 274, 278 (Fla. 1991); Plains Resources, Inc. v. Gable, 682 P.2d 653, 662 (Kan. 1984). The scope of the employer's duty in exercising reasonable care in a hiring decision depends on the employee's anticipated degree of contact with other persons in carrying out the duties of employment. Connes, 831 P.2d at 1321. The requisite degree of care increases, and may require expanded inquiry into the employee's background, when the employer expects the employee to have frequent contact with the public or when the nature of the employment fosters close contact and a special relationship between particular persons and the employee. See id. at 1322 (stating that employers who expect their employees to have frequent or close contact with others are required to go beyond the job application and perform an independent inquiry into the background of the candidate); Restatement (Second) of Agency § 213 cmt. d (1958) ("If, however, the work is likely to subject third persons to serious risk of great harm, there is a special duty of investigation.").

Bishop Frey and the Diocese contend that in order to establish a claim of negligent hiring, the plaintiff must show that the employer was aware of the employee's specific propensity and that the employee has a history of criminal, tortious or otherwise dangerous conduct. We disagree. Liability for negligent hiring is not based on past conduct alone, but may also be based on character attributes of the employee. In Connes, we held that liability may be predicated on the employer's hiring of a person where the employer believes that the person by "reason of some attribute of character or prior conduct, would create an undue risk of harm to others in carrying out his or her employment responsibilities." Connes, 813 P.2d at 1321 (emphasis added).

The duty is increased in this case because the Diocese placed Father Robinson in a position that required not only frequent contact with others, but induced reliance and trust through the counseling process. A parishioner in pastoral counseling may develop a deep emotional dependence on a priest. See Ferguson v. People, 824 P.2d 803 (Colo. 1992). The emotional dependence is called "transference" and is a typical reaction characterized by a patient unconsciously attributing repressed feelings to the counselor. Transference is one of the most significant concepts in therapy. See Noyles Kolb, Modern Clinical Psychiatry 505 (6th ed. 1963), quoted in Simmons v. United States, 805 F.2d 1363, 1365 (9th Cir. 1986). A counselor must be capable of addressing these feelings, both loving and hostile. See Simmons, 805 F.2d at 1365 (noting the counselor should look for manifestations of the transference and be prepared to handle it as it develops).

Courts have routinely regarded the mishandling of transference as malpractice or gross negligence. See, e.g., Vigilant Ins. Co. v. Employers Ins. of Wausau, 626 F. Supp. 262 (S.D.N.Y. 1986); Aetna Life Casualty Co. v. McCabe, 556 F. Supp. 1342 (E.D. Pa. 1983); Waters v. Bourhis, 709 P.2d 469 (Cal. 1985); Seymour v. Lofgreen, 495 P.2d 969 (Kan. 1972); L.L. v. Medical Protective Co., 362 N.W.2d 174 (Wis. 1984).

Father Robinson's duties included counseling and close association with parishioners at the church. The Diocese was in possession of a psychological report which concluded that Father Robinson has a "sexual identification ambiguity." Another psychological report indicated that Father Robinson had a problem with depression and suffered from low self-esteem. An expert testified that a large number of clergy who have sexual relationships with their parishioners do so partially as a result of suffering from depression and low self-esteem. Father Robinson's struggle with his sexual identity and his problems with depression and low self-esteem put the Diocese on notice to inquire further whether Father Robinson was capable of counseling parishioners. These reports gave the Diocese a reason to believe Father Robinson should not be put in a position to counsel vulnerable individuals and that might be unable to handle the transference phenomenon. The failure to communicate this knowledge to the vestry and subsequent placement of Father Robinson in the role of counselor breached the Diocese's duty of care to Tenantry.

At trial a clinical psychologist testified: Dr. Dolby [the psychologist filing the report on Father Robinson] makes a statement [Father Robinson] has a history of sexual identification ambiguity. Although he says that [Father Robinson] functions exclusively as a heterosexual both physically and in fantasy. His marriage is apparently satisfying. I don't understand what that means. Obviously, it would be of some concern to know if he is having any sort of struggle in the area of sexual identity. That is something that I think a reasonably prudent bishop or anyone else reading this would want to know what that meant, what is the issue that has been found here.

There were two psychological reports presented at trial that were in the possession of the Diocese. The first was dated June 9, 1980, and the second April 25, 1983.


The jury also found the Diocese was negligent in its supervision of Father Robinson. The Restatement (Second) of Agency section 213 (1958) states:

A person conducting an activity through servants or other agents is subject to liability for harm resulting from his conduct if he is negligent or reckless:

. . . .

(c) in the supervision of the activity . . . .

Comment d states:

The principal may be negligent because he has reason to know that the servant or other agent, because of his qualities, is likely to harm others in view of the work or instrumentalities entrusted to him. If the dangerous quality of the agent causes harm, the principal may be liable under the rule that one initiating conduct having undue tendency to cause harm is liable therefor.

An employer may therefore be subject to liability for negligent supervision if he knows or should have known that an "employee's conduct would subject third parties to an unreasonable risk of harm . . . ." Destefano, 763 P.2d at 288.

Both the Diocese and Bishop Frey had previous exposure to the problem of sexual relationships developing between priests and parishioners because the problem had arisen seven times before. The psychological reports gave notice that further supervision may be required. The reports indicate problems of sexual identification ambiguity, depression and low self-esteem. Father Robinson's file also indicated he had problems with authority. Father Robinson had an inability to respond to superior authority. A reasonable person would have inquired further into Father Robinson's known difficulty in dealing with superior authority, and would have assumed a greater degree of care in monitoring his conduct. In light of its knowledge, it was reasonable for the jury to determine the defendants should have been alert to the possibility of problems with Father Robinson and taken adequate steps to insure Father Robinson was not in a position where he could abuse the trust he enjoys as a priest conducting counseling.

Father Robinson testified that he did not have any guidance on how his office could adversely affect the people he counseled. He also testified that the church does not have any procedures for priests to follow when they have trouble in counseling nor does the church have any procedure for addressing romantic or physical relationships between priests and parishioners. Father Robinson stated that the only assistance for a troubled priest is the tradition of seeking the help of the bishop.


The jury determined that the Diocese and Bishop Frey were vicariously liable for Father Robinson's tortious conduct. Father Robinson, however, was not acting within the scope and course of his employment and therefore the Diocese and Bishop Frey are not vicariously liable.

As noted supra part IV(A), the jury had sufficient evidence to find that Father Robinson was an agent of the Diocese.

The agency doctrine of vicarious liability is based on the theory of respondeat superior which postulates that a master may be liable for the acts of an agent acting on the master's behalf. Connes, 831 P.2d at 1320-21; Cooley v. Eskridge, 125 Colo. 102, 241 P.2d 851 (1952); Restatement (Second) of Agency § 213 (1958). An employer may be held vicariously liable for an employee's tort only when the tort is committed within the course and scope of employment. Destefano,

The scope of employment requirement restricts vicarious liability for tortious conduct to actions that "should be considered as one of the normal risks to be borne by the business in which the servant is employed." Restatement (Second) of Agency § 229 cmt. a (1958). Although the commission of an intentional tort may sometimes be within the scope of employment, the agent's intent in committing the tortious act must be to further the employer's business. See Cooley v. Eskridge, 125 Colo. 102, 112, 241 P.2d 851, 856 (1952) (stating authority to do an unlawful act will not be implied unless it is warranted from the nature of the employment itself) (citations omitted); Byrd v. Faber, 565 N.E.2d 584, 587 (Ohio 1991) (giving the example that a bar owner employing a bouncer may be vicariously liable to a patron if the bouncer injures the patron while removing him from the premises). However, if an employee commits an intentional tort solely for reasons that do not further his employer's business or cannot be considered a natural incident of employment, the employer cannot be vicariously liable. Cooley, 125 Colo. at 114, 241 P.2d at 857. The scope of employment limitation on vicarious liability partially distinguishes vicarious liability from the tort of negligent hiring. See supra note 16.

763 P.2d at 286; McDonald v. Lakewood Country Club, 170 Colo. 355, 461 P.2d 437 (1969). An employee is acting within the scope of his employment if he is doing the work assigned to him by his employer, or what is necessarily incidental to that work, or customary in the employer's business. Destefano, 763 P.2d at 287; Russell v. First Am. Mortgage Co., 39 Colo. App. 360, 565 P.2d 972 (1977). We have previously held "[w]hen a priest has sexual intercourse with a parishioner it is not part of the priest's duties nor customary within the business of the church. Such conduct is contrary to the principles of Catholicism and is not incidental to the tasks assigned a priest by a diocese." Destefano, 763 P.2d at 287; see also Dausch v. Rykse, 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1448 (N.D. Ill., Feb. 9, 1993) ("When a clergyman has sexual relations with a parishioner, particularly when he is counseling the parishioner for emotional problems, his actions would clearly not be part of his ministerial duties nor customary within the business of the church." (citations omitted)).

We do not find the distinction between the Catholic priest in Destefano, who takes a vow of celibacy, and Episcopal priests, who are free to marry and engage in sexual acts, to be dispositive. Regardless of the denomination, when a priest engages in oral sex with a mentally ill parishioner, the priest is not acting within the scope of employment.

There is no evidence in the record to support Tenantry's contention that Father Robinson was acting in the scope of his employment by engaging in oral sex with her. In fact, the evidence in the record establishes that Father Robinson was not acting within the scope of his employment by engaging in fellatio and cunnilingus with Tenantry. Bishop Frey testified that Father Robinson's conduct was a "serious breach of [his] ordination vows." Father Robinson testified that his physical relationship was not within the scope of his employment with the church. Even Tenantry's own experts testified that Father Robinson's sexual conduct was outside the scope of his priestly duties.

Although it is evident that a priest who engages in tortious sexual contact with a parishioner under the facts in this case is not acting within the scope of his employment, Tenantry nevertheless claims that the Diocese is vicariously liable because it was foreseeable that Robinson would mishandle the transference phenomenon. There is some support for the theory that reasonable foreseeability can establish vicarious liability. In Milla v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, 232 Cal.Rptr. 685 (Cal.App. 1986), the California appellate court found that a Catholic Archdiocese could be held liable under the theory of respondeat superior for several priests' sexual contact with a parishioner if their conduct was characteristic of the activities of the church or reasonably foreseeable. This concept was adopted in Byrd, 565 N.E.2d at 588. While the phenomenon of transference is foreseeable, we do not wish to expand the concept of vicarious liability as the California appellate or Ohio supreme court did. Expanding vicarious liability of a religious organization to cover foreseeable acts may well intrude into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Rather, the phenomenon of transference is better dealt with in this case through the claim of negligent hiring and supervision.

Questions 8, 9, and 10 of the special verdict form completed by the jury read as follows: QUESTION NO. 8. Was Robinson an agent of the defendant Diocese? ANSWER: Yes QUESTION NO. 9. If the answer to number 8 is "yes," was defendant Robinson acting within the course and scope of his agency during the events regarding Mary Tenantry? ANSWER: Yes QUESTION NO. 10. If the answer to number 9 is "yes," continue at question 11. If the answer to number 9 is "no," did the defendant Diocese ratify non-party Robinson's actions in connection with the events regarding Mary Tenantry? ANSWER: _____ Based upon the answers to questions 8 and 9, it was not necessary to answer question 10 on ratification and question 10 was crossed out by the jury. Accordingly, we do not address the issue of whether the Diocese ratified Father Robinson's actions.

The jury's finding that Robinson was acting within the scope of his employment when he had tortious sexual contact with Tenantry is erroneous as a matter of law. The Diocese is not vicariously liable for Robinson's acts of oral sex with Tenantry. We therefore order the trial court to vacate its judgment holding the Diocese and Bishop Frey vicariously liable for Father Robinson's acts.

An erroneous portion of a judgment may be set aside if susceptible to segregation, and the remainder of the judgment may be affirmed. Department of Transportation v. Kendricks, 250 S.E.2d 854, 859 (Ga.App. 1978); Chicago, Indianapolis Louisville Ry. Co. v. Brown, 60 N.E. 346 (Ind. 1901). In this case, the jury findings in the trial court's special verdict form specifically awarded $488,400 in past and future damages and interest to Tenantry for the Diocese's vicarious liability for the acts of Father Robinson. It is this portion of the judgment we vacate.


The judgment entered by the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part. We affirm the trial court judgment against the Diocese and Bishop Frey for breach of fiduciary duty, negligent hiring and supervision. We reverse the judgment that the Diocese and Bishop Frey are vicariously liable for the acts of Father Robinson and order the trial court to vacate the judgment predicated on the jury's finding of vicarious liability and the damages based on vicarious liability.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROVIRA concurs in part and dissents in part.

Summaries of

Moses v. the Diocese of Colorado

Supreme Court of Colorado. EN BANC CHIEF JUSTICE ROVIRA concurs in part and dissents in part
Nov 15, 1993
863 P.2d 310 (Colo. 1993)

holding that the First Amendment did not relieve a church from liability for breach of fiduciary duty where a priest engaged in sexual relations with a mentally ill parishioner he was counseling

Summary of this case from Fortin v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland

holding that First Amendment did not bar claims of fiduciary duty or negligent hiring and supervision against clergy and their superiors; such claims "do not involve disputes within the church and are not based solely on ecclesiastical or disciplinary matters"

Summary of this case from Mckelvey v. Pierce

holding that the sexual misconduct of a priest cannot be a part of a priest's duties, nor customary within the business of the church

Summary of this case from Tercero v. Roman Cath. Diocese of Norwich

holding First Amendment no bar to adult parishioner's claims against bishop and diocese for breach of fiduciary duty and negligent hiring and supervision grounded on sexual relationship between parishioner and priest during the course of counseling

Summary of this case from Malicki v. Doe

holding record supported jury finding that fiduciary relationship existed between Bishop, diocese, and plaintiff, and that such duty was breached

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holding that although courts must not become embroiled in interpreting or weighing church doctrine, a claim of negligent hiring of a minister is actionable because it does not require such interpretation or weighing of religious belief but instead is merely application of a secular standard to secular conduct

Summary of this case from VAN OSDOL v. VOGT

holding that the First Amendment did not a preclude negligent hiring claim where a diocese knew of priest's problems of depression and struggles with sexual identity

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concluding that record supported jury's finding that fiduciary relationship existed between clergyman, plaintiff, in part, because clergyman had served as counselor to plaintiff

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affirming jury's finding church hierarchy and Bishop assumed fiduciary duty to parishioner where parishioner personally informed church hierarchy about relationship and church hierarchy assumed control of the matter and told parishioner Bishop would take care of situation

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stating that there is a breach of the duty to care when the defendant does not recognize potential employee attribute of character or prior conduct which would create an undue risk of harm to those with whom the employee came in contact in executing [her] employment responsibilities"

Summary of this case from Estate of Lillis v. Correct Care Sols., LLC

stating this standard for negligent hiring and supervision claim

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In Moses, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict that an Episcopal Diocese and bishop had negligently hired and supervised a priest who had had sexual relations with a parishioner.

Summary of this case from Dimaria v. Concorde Entm't, Inc.

In Moses, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict that an Episcopal Diocese and bishop had negligently hired and supervised a priest who had had sexual relations with a parishioner.

Summary of this case from Dimaria v. Concorde Entm't, Inc.

indicating that religious institutions do not have “broad immunity against being sued in civil courts”

Summary of this case from Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis

using neutral principles of law to uphold findings of liability against diocese and bishop for breach of fiduciary duty based on sexual relationship between assistant priest and parishioner in counseling session

Summary of this case from Mabus v. St. James Episcopal Church

In Moses, 863 P.2d at 329, the Supreme Court of Colorado quoted the Restatement of Agency in order to delineate such elements.

Summary of this case from L.L.N. v. Clauder

indicating that the priest counseled parishioners at the church

Summary of this case from L.L.N. v. Clauder

indicating that religious institutions do not have "broad immunity against being sued in civil courts"

Summary of this case from Church of God in Christ, Inc. v. L M Haley Ministries, Inc.

explaining two distinct sources of fiduciary duties, i.e., a legal relationship or a confidential relation

Summary of this case from Delluomo v. Cedarblade

allowing negligent hiring and negligent supervision claims; rejecting vicarious liability claim

Summary of this case from TELL v. ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE

counseling regarding relationship with child

Summary of this case from Richelle L. v. Roman Catholic Archbishop

reaffirming the viability of a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty and the invalidity of a cause of action for clergy malpractice

Summary of this case from F.G. v. MacDonell
Case details for

Moses v. the Diocese of Colorado

Case Details

Full title:Mary E. Moses, n/k/a Mary Elaine Tenantry, Plaintiff-Appellee and…

Court:Supreme Court of Colorado. EN BANC CHIEF JUSTICE ROVIRA concurs in part and dissents in part

Date published: Nov 15, 1993


863 P.2d 310 (Colo. 1993)

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