Detailing clergy malpractice

You may rightly assume that ethical standards apply to doctors, lawyers, accountants and even contractors. Yet what about clergy? If you attend the services of a particular religion or faith, you no doubt assign a great deal of esteem and trust to the person who conducts said services. His or her influence may even go beyond preaching to offering advice and counseling. As many of those in Jacksonville that we here at St. Denis & Davey have worked with can attest to, such leaders may sometimes fail in their duties to their parishioners. 

Yet does such a failure constitute malpractice? Your local clergy may make him or herself available to you for counseling on matters related to your marriage or your financial management. Typically, however, he or she is not a licensed marriage or financial counselor. Thus, some may argue that he or she should not be held to the same standard as professionals, and that his or her services are less counseling than they are advice from one friend to another. 

However, clergy members are in a unique position that can often lead to abuse of the trust you are willing to give them. In reviewing the matter of clergy malpractice, the Florida Supreme Court has cited commentary recognizing an imbalance of power in a clergy counseling setting. The factors that contribute to that imbalance include: 

  • Your (the counselee) vulnerability
  • Your desire to attain salvation (according to the tenants of your faith)
  • The perceived spiritual superiority of your clergy 
  • His or her control of the counseling environment 
  • The leverage gained through unilateral self-revelation 
  • The confidentiality of your relationship

Should your clergy use those factors to exercise influence over you, you may have a claim for malpractice. You can discover more examples of professional malpractice by continuing to explore our site. 

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