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The Clergy-Penitent Privilege: Acting as a Spiritual Advisor

Court rules protection does not apply to statements made to a former minister acting as a psychiatrist.

Key point 3-07.4. 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 Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the clergy-penitent privilege did not apply to conversations between a pastor and a criminal defendant who was charged with child molestation, and therefore the pastor could testify at the defendant's criminal trial regarding the conversations. A man was charged with sexually molesting his stepdaughter over the course of two years. The victim told no one of the abuse while it was occurring because the defendant told her "not to tell anybody. It was our secret." However, the pastor at the church that the victim's family attended began to notice that the victim was "manifesting some real angry behavior." She asked the child why she was so angry, and eventually the child ...

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  • November 1, 2009

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