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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Clergy-Penitent Privilege Protects Pastors
Charges of criminal failure to report child abuse were dismissed for one Michigan pastor.
Michigan

Child Abuse Reporting

Key point 4-08. Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.

A Michigan court ruled that a pastor could not be prosecuted under the state child abuse reporting law for failing to report an incident of child abuse that had been disclosed to him in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. In 2009, a pastor was approached by a parishioner regarding her concerns that her husband was abusing her daughters. The parishioner testified as follows at a hearing to dismiss the charges:

I didn't know what to do, because I had found out that my husband at the time had my girls touch themselves [in their genital areas], and I went to my pastor because I didn't know what to do. So I went to him to find out what to do, because I wanted [my husband] to get help, and I wanted to know what he thought—whether I should make a report when my husband did not actually touch the girls.

She further testified that she told the pastor she was willing to report it if necessary. She asked the pastor to meet with her husband. She could not remember if she met with him at the church, but she thought she had called him. She testified that she talked with him alone and no one else was listening to the conversation.

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