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When Are Statements to Clergy Confidential and Privileged?

Recent case highlights some statements that may or may not be protected by penitent privilege.

Key point: Not all statements to clergy are protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. To be privileged, a statement must be made to a minister, in confidence, while acting in his or spiritual capacity as a spiritual adviser.
Key point: A minister's observations of a counselee's demeanor is not protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.
Key point: The presence of a third party during an otherwise confidential counseling session between a minister and counselee may prevent the conversation from being privileged.

• A Minnesota court ruled that most statements made by a murder suspect to two ministers at a public hospital were privileged. An unemployed psychologist (the "defendant") lived with a woman and her 23-month-old son. Late one night, while the infant's mother was at work, the defendant brought the child into a hospital emergency room. The child was not breathing ...

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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:
  • January 2, 1995

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