Confidential and Privileged Communications – Part 2

A Massachusetts court ruled that the clergy-penitent privilege did not apply to a statement made by a murder suspect to the director of a Christian rehabilitation center.

Church Law and Tax2003-05-01

Confidential and Privileged Communications

Key point 3-07.3. In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister.
The Clergy-Penitent Privilege

* A Massachusetts court ruled that the clergy-penitent privilege did not apply to a statement made by a murder suspect to the director of a Christian rehabilitation center for drug addicts and alcoholics. The suspect made incriminating statements to the director, and the director later testified regarding these statements at the suspect’s murder trial. The suspect was convicted of murder, and appealed his conviction on several grounds. One of his arguments was that the statements he made to the director of the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center were privileged and therefore should never have been introduced into evidence. A state appeals court disagreed. It noted that the Massachusetts clergy privilege statute applies to confidential communications made to a “priest, rabbi or ordained or licensed minister of any church,” and it concluded that the director of the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center “was not ordained or licensed as any form of clergyman, and therefore not a clergyman as defined in the statute. We decline to expand the statute to include [him]. [The defendant’s] contention that the facility was operated by an ordained minister and that he was seeking religious or spiritual advice or comfort does not suffice to make his conversation with the director privileged.” Commonwealth v. Marrero, 766 N.E.2d 461 (Mass. App. 2002).

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