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Clergy-Penitent Privilege and Confidentiality

In many states, the presence of third persons during a conversation with a minister will prevent the conversation from being privileged.

Key point 3-07.2.In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made in confidence. This generally means that there are no other persons present besides the minister and counselee who can overhear the communication, and that there is an expectation that the conversation will be kept secret.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a pastor's confession to another pastor that he was guilty of rape was not protected by clergy-penitent privilege since other persons were present when the confession was made and so it was not confidential.

The court noted that the clergy-penitent privilege prevents ministers from testifying in court regarding statements made to them in confidence while acting in a professional capacity as a spiritual advisor. The Mississippi privilege states: "A person has a privilege to refuse to disclose and prevent another ...

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