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Pastor, Church & Law

written by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

The Clergy-Penitent Privilege—"In the Course of Discipline"

Volume 1 . Chapter 3 . § 3-07.5
Key point 3-07.5. In some states the clergy-penitent privilege only applies to communications made to a minister in the course of "discipline." While most courts interpret this requirement broadly to cover statements made in the course of spiritual counsel and advice, others have interpreted it narrowly to apply only to confessions made to Catholic priests.

Several state laws limit the clergy-penitent privilege to communications made to a minister "in the course of discipline enjoined by the rules or practice" of his or her church. Some courts have interpreted this language strictly. As a result they apply the privilege only to communications "made in the understood pursuance of that church discipline which gives rise to the confessional relation, ...

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