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What Does the Clergy-Penitent Privilege Cover?

Not all confidential conversations are protected.

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.

A federal court in Utah ruled that statements made by a church member to three church officials were not protected by the clergy—penitent privilege. Two adults drowned during a tragic accident while camping with another adult and five minors in a national park. A lawsuit was brought against the United States government by the families of the victims. The government later asked for a copy of a tape recording that was made in a church shortly after the accident, in which the sole surviving adult gave an account of the accident to three church leaders. The church leaders called for the meeting in order to obtain a first hand account of the trip so they ...

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  • March 3, 1997

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