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Recent Developments in Montana Regarding Confidential and Privileged Communications

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that statements made by a child molester to lay leaders in his church were not protected from disclosure by the clergy-penitent privilege.

Montana
State:
Key point. In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister acting in a professional capacity as a spiritual adviser.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that statements made by a child molester to lay leaders in his church were not protected from disclosure by the clergy-penitent privilege. A father (the "defendant") was charged with sexually abusing his nine-year-old stepdaughter. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, and a trial date was set. While awaiting trial, the defendant and his wife divorced, but both began attending the same church. The church allows its members to confess their sins to one another, but no church member has the authority to formally forgive sins. Rather, the church believes forgiveness only comes from God. After an evening church service which both the defendant and his former wife attended, the two ...

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