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Spiritual Counsel and the Clergy-Penitent Privilege

When is a conversation protected?

A Tennessee appeals court concluded that statements made by a criminal suspect to his minister were privileged, and accordingly not admissible as evidence in a court of law. Tennessee law specifies that

no minister of the gospel … shall be allowed or required in giving testimony as a witness in any litigation, to disclose any information communicated to him in a confidential manner, properly entrusted to him in his professional capacity, and necessary to enable him to discharge the functions of his office according to the usual course of his practice or discipline, wherein such person so communicating such information about himself or another is seeking spiritual counsel and advice relative to and growing out of the information so imparted.

A burglary suspect made incriminating statements to his minister, which were admitted at trial. The trial court reasoned that the statements ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • March 2, 1992

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