David Skeel—Clerical Privilege and the Law

Posted by Kendall Harmon

By the 1920s, roughly 30 U.S. states had adopted a clergy privilege, often showing as much or more solicitude for the penitent as for the priest or pastor. "Unless the person confessing or confiding waives the privilege," as the New York provision puts it, "a clergyman, or other minister of any religion or duly accredited Christian Science practitioner, shall not be allowed to disclose a confession or confidence made to him in his professional character as spiritual adviser."

The privilege comes with the very steep cost that some wrongdoers may go free if their confession can't be used. But a wrongdoer may be more willing to confess if confessions are protected, in which case the spiritual adviser or the penitent's own conscience may encourage him to face up to his wrongdoing voluntarily.

Almost the only exception to the clergy-penitent privilege is for child abuse.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture

1 Comments
Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:20 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Keller wrote:

That is a very slippery slope. The clergy-pentitent priviledge is not just statutory.  It goes back to the very beginnings of the common law. What is interesting is liberals in general and trial lawyers in particular, don’t want us to be able to get their medical records when they file a law suit (so we can see if they are telling the truth about an injury or condition being caused by an accident) but seem to want to “update” this privilege.  That says a lot to me about where American society has gone in recent years.

June 18, 10:54 am | [comment link]
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