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‘Spiritual Adviser’ Limits of Clergy-Penitent Privilege Outlined by Massachusetts Court Ruling

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.

A Massachusetts appeals court concluded that incriminating statements made to a pastor by a man who was charged with the molestation of his stepdaughter were not protected from disclosure by the clergy-penitent privilege because they were not made to the pastor while acting as a spiritual adviser. For a period of ten years an adult male (the "defendant") allegedly sexually molested his minor stepdaughter when she was between 6 and 16 years of age. The defendant later disclosed to his wife that he had sexually touched the victim on two occasions. After this disclosure, the defendant called a local pastor who previously had counseled him and his wife.

The defendant was prosecuted for two counts of aggravated ...

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