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Court: Pastors’ Conversations Confidential Even In Abuse Cases

The Michigan Court of Appeals has dismissed a criminal charge against a minister accused of of failing to report child abuse.

As we hear from The Michigan Public Radio Network’s Rick Pluta, the court said the minister is protected by the clergy’s privacy privilege.

Michigan has a law that requires many professionals – including ministers -- to report to police suspicions of child abuse. But Michigan also protects the confidentiality of confessions and counseling between parishioners and clergy.

In this case, a woman sought advice from her pastor in 2009 on her suspicions that her husband was abusing her children. The pastor did not report the abuse at the time, but the woman, at his urging, did turn in her husband two years later when she found the abuse had continued. Authorities charged the minister under the child abuse reporting law. But the appeals court held that the conversations were privileged and confidential.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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