Background Checks for Church Employees or Volunteers

By Michael Klazema on 9/24/2019

Scandal and controversy have followed the Catholic Church for the better part of two decades since the Boston Globe published its 2002 expose of patterns of sexual abuse and cover-up in the church. That event proved to be seismic for the Catholic Church and all organized religion. It led to countless investigations into tens of thousands of abuse allegations levied against thousands of Catholic priests. It also proved to be a turning point for background checks in religious organizations. 

Churches have a responsibility to protect the people in their congregations—especially kids. Employee background checks and volunteer background checks are among the most critical strategies that religious organizations can use to make sure those protections are in place. 

At, we serve numerous religious organizations. We partner closely with LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and a provider of crucial resources to thousands of churches around the country, background checks included. As of 2013, had conducted nearly 85,000 background checks for LifeWay and the churches that it serves. Half of those checks uncovered an issue, highlighting the immense importance of employee and volunteer background checks for religious organizations. 

Explore our white paper about background checks for churches to understand why background checks are so crucial for all religious organizations. 

While it has become more common for churches to run volunteer and employee background checks—with a close eye out for issues such as violent criminal history or sex offender status—there are still gaps in the system. In 2019, numerous major legal cases sprung up concerning sex abuse in the Catholic Church. In West Virginia, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston alleging that the diocese failed to comply with West Virginia law by not conducting adequate employee background checks and by knowingly hiring pedophiles. 

Morrissey alleged that the diocese failed to follow West Virginia’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act when advertising Catholic school and camp opportunities to parents. That law, Morrissey argued, required the diocese to disclose that some of its clergy and employees had been “credibly accused of abuse” in the past when working with different religious organizations. 

The diocese argued that it was free to hire whomever it pleased under the freedom of religion protection of the First Amendment. Assistant Attorney General Douglas Davis rebutted this response and said that even the First Amendment didn’t give the diocese the right to “refuse to deal honestly and fairly when it sells education and recreation services to the general public and competes with public and private schools and camps.” 

In New York, a new Child’s Victim Act took effect on August 14, 2019. The law enables alleged victims of child sexual abuse to pursue legal action against their attackers via civil lawsuits even if the statute of limitations has expired. The law rendered the Catholic Church especially vulnerable given the prevalence of Catholic diocese throughout New York. Hundreds of lawsuits against the clergy have been filed since.

 These lawsuits shine a light on why background checks—along with careful oversight of employees or volunteers who work one-on-one with minors—are so crucial for religious organizations. If your organization requires assistance with employee background checks or volunteer background checks, contact today.

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