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Mandatory Reporters and the Clergy-Penitent Privilege

Can confessions of child abuse be privileged conversations?

• Does the "clergy-penitent" privilege exempt ministers from the obligation to report child abuse? That was the difficult question addressed by an Alaska appeals court. A man sexually molested a 4-year-old child who had been placed in his care for an evening. The molester sought help through counseling with a minister. After learning of the individual's sexual relations with a child, the minister reported the incident to the authorities. State troopers investigated the report, and the molester was prosecuted. The molester claimed that the troopers' investigation, and the subsequent prosecution, were based entirely on information he provided to his minister in the course of confidential counseling. As such, it was protected by the clergy-penitent privilege and could not be basis for a criminal prosecution. A trial judge agreed that the statements made to the minister were covered by ...

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Posted:
  • November 2, 1992

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