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Confidentiality During Spiritual Counsel

Only statements made in the course of seeking spiritual counsel are protected by the privilege.

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.

Key point 3-08.01. The courts have not required that a counselee be a church member in order for communications to a minister to qualify for the clergy-penitent privilege. However, church membership is a factor that the courts have considered in deciding if the privilege applies to a particular communication.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the clergy-penitent privilege did not apply to incriminating statements made by a father to a pastor concerning allegations of child abuse since the statements were not made in the course of seeking spiritual counsel. A man (the "defendant") sexually abused his two minor daughters for several years. When the older daughter was in college, she returned ...

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