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Ethics 1, Requirement 7

Discuss the meaning of confidential privilege, the laws in your state that provide for this privilege and the extent to which it applies to clergy-lay communications in your community. (200 words minimum)

From the Ohio Revised Code:
2317.02. Privileged communications.
(C) A member of the clergy, rabbi, priest, or regularly ordained, accredited, or licensed minister of an established and legally cognizable church, denomination, or sect, when the member of the clergy, rabbi, priest, or minister remains accountable to the authority of that church, denomination, or sect, concerning a confession made, or any information confidentially communicated, to the member of the clergy, rabbi, priest, or minister for a religious counseling purpose in the member of the clergy's, rabbi's, priest's, or minister's professional character; however, the member of the clergy, rabbi, priest, or minister may testify by express consent of the person making the communication, except when the disclosure of the information is in violation of a sacred trust;

2921.22. Failure to report a crime or knowledge of a death or burn injury.

[Gunshot wounds and information regarding cause of death or burn injury need not be provided to law enforcement if:]

(1) The information is privileged by reason of the relationship between ... member of the clergy, rabbi, minister, or priest and any person communicating information confidentially to the member of the clergy, rabbi, minister, or priest for a religious counseling purpose of a professional character.

(4) Disclosure of the information would amount to disclosure by a member of the ordained clergy of an organized religious body of a confidential communication made to that member of the clergy in that member's capacity as a member of the clergy by a person seeking the aid or counsel of that member of the clergy.

"Confidential priviledge" most often applies to journalists protecting their sources, where they are allowed to protect the identity of a source, or "marital-communications" where one spouse is not required to testify against the other spouse. When applied to a priesthood, we tend to think of the "seal of confession" in Catholicism, where the priest may not reveal anything said in a formal confession. This sort of privilege is called "priest-penitent privilage."

There is a sticking point where this confidential privilege might not extend in the state of Ohio, though: if ADF promoted confidential counseling as one aspect of our priesthood, we would not be bound by the sacramental "confession" issue above. We could, instead, retain confidentiality under the "confidential communication" portion, but we would need to make this part of the "professional character" of our clergy. At this time, I do not believe we can say that confidential communications are part of our professional character, even if it is, ethically, something that we all seem to follow. I think that avenues of counseling and confidential communication would be good to explore, to expand legal protections to our clergy in many states.

Should a ADF Clergy Code of Ethics be drafted, I recommend that we seriously examine adding some sort of priest-penitent privilege, even if we don't have "penitence" in our religion.

Sources

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