Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Confidential Communications with More than One Person
Clergy-penitent privilege may be revoked if information has been shared with others.
Key point: The clergy-penitent privilege may be "waived" when a counselee shares the same information with another person.

A New York court ruled that a murderer did not "waive" the clergy-penitent privilege when he disclosed to police a confession he had made to two ministers. A drug dealer murdered his girlfriend in New York, and then took a bus to Miami. A clerk at the bus station in Miami noticed that the murderer was "in deep need" and asked him to come over to the ticket counter. The clerk spoke with the murderer and repeatedly assured him that God loved him. The murderer related to the clerk that he had grown up in the church and had become involved in drugs after leaving the church. He also admitted that he had killed someone. The clerk called his pastor, and a few minutes later the pastor, along with another pastor (a former police detective), arrived at the station. The ministers took the murderer to a church service, and following the service they spoke with him further. The murderer confessed to the ministers that he had murdered a woman in New York, and the ministers urged him to turn himself in to the police. The murderer later contacted the police and confessed to the killing. At the murder trial, the court concluded that the statements the murderer made to the ministers were covered by the clergy-penitent privilege. But, the court also ruled that the murderer had "waived" the privilege by telling the police the same thing he had told the ministers. As a result, the court let the ministers testify regarding the murderer's confession. The murderer was convicted, and he appealed his conviction in part because the trial court had permitted the ministers to disclose his confession.

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