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Clergy-Penitent Privilege

Learn what statements or conversations are considered “privileged.”

Clergy-Penitent Privilege

Every state has a statute or court rule making certain communications to clergy "privileged." This generally means that neither the minister nor the "penitent" can be forced to testify in court (or in a deposition or certain other legal proceedings) about the contents of the communication.

Pastors can use these eight questions to understand whether or not a statement or a conversation could be considered privileged by a court of law.

1. Is there a “communication”?

If you answered yes to this question, go to question 2. If you answered no, the clergy-penitent privilege does not apply.

Read the next two paragraphs to learn what a “communication” can include.

Usually, a “communication” refers to an oral conversation. This can include phone conversations. It can also include correspondence (such as letters and emails) and even gestures or other ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • March 3, 2020

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