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Counseling and the Clergy-Penitent Privilege

When are communications protected?

• A Pennsylvania state appeals court ruled that statements made by a murder suspect to a minister were not "privileged" since they were not made to the minister while acting in his professional role as a spiritual adviser. The facts of the case are tragic. In 1966, a 10-year-old girl and her 6-year-old friend were playing by a creek near their homes. A man approached the children, and asked them to help him "catch minnows" around a bend in the stream. He offered them chewing gum if they would accompany him. The 6-year-old declined the invitation, but the 10-year-old girl went with the man. A search for the girl was launched when she failed to return home for lunch. Her body was discovered, with her throat slashed, behind some bushes a few hundred yards from where the children had been playing. A small, plastic "sheriff's badge" was found under her body. An intensive search was conducted, ...

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  • May 1, 1991

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