A New York court issues an important ruling- Lightman v. Flaum, 687 N.Y.S.2d 562 (1999) [The Clergy-Penitent Privilege ]
Article summary. In a landmark case that should be reviewed by every minister and seminary student, a New York court ruled that a woman could sue two rabbis for disclosing extremely confidential information that she had divulged to them separately in the course of confidential marital counseling. This case illustrates the importance of clergy maintaining the confidentiality of information shared with them in the course of conversations protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. A failure to do so may result in civil liability for breach of a fiduciary duty to preserve confidential information.
A recent New York court ruling makes it more likely that clergy who disclose information shared with them in confidence will be subject to civil liability. This feature article will review the facts of this important ruling, summarize the court's opinion, and evaluate the significance of the case to clergy and lay church leaders.