Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
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 and exhibited multiple bruises and other evidence of abuse. Hospital personnel revived the child and placed him in intensive care. The hospital chaplain was present in the emergency room that night, and met with the defendant in a hallway. She identified herself as the chaplain, and escorted the defendant to the hospital's family room where they spoke. The defendant recounted to the chaplain his financial difficulties, and asked about the child. During this conversation, the child's grandmother entered the room and the three of them remained in the room and conversed for several more minutes. Hospital personnel later called a local Baptist pastor to meet with family members. The pastor was introduced to the defendant, and he asked the defendant if he "wanted to talk." The two went to a hospital waiting area for several minutes and spoke. The defendant explained to the pastor his financial difficulties and stress, and also explained that he was trying to teach the child to be a "polite, little boy" by withholding food until the child said "thank you." The defendant also stated that he wanted to be a better father than his own father had been. During this conversation a hospital orderly entered the room briefly to get something to drink, and then left. A few days later the child died. A pathologist concluded that the child had died from abuse and malnutrition. The defendant was convicted of second degree murder. He appealed his conviction on the ground that the chaplain and Baptist pastor had been permitted to testify at his trial in violation of the clergy-penitent privilege. The appeals court upheld the conviction. While it agreed with the defendant that the conversations with the chaplain and pastor were privileged under state law, it concluded that this testimony was not prejudicial to the defendant since the evidence against him was overwhelming even without this testimony.

Log In For Full Access

Interested in becoming a member? Learn more.

View All
from our store
12 Law & Tax Guidelines for New Ministers

12 Law & Tax Guidelines for New Ministers

Essential knowledge to ensure legal and financial clarity and integrity in ministry.
Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

Did you know pastors and other church staff may be required by law to report child abuse and that laws on this vary state by state?
Church Issues: Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Identity

Church Issues: Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Identity

Richard Hammar combines research and analysis to take you through a step-by-step process regarding public accommodations laws.
Using Social Media Safely

Using Social Media Safely

Policies to keep your church staff and members safe when using social media.

ChurchSalary

ChurchSalary

Experience a whole new way to set compensation. Eliminate the guesswork – get access to detailed compensation reports in just minutes.