Thursday, March 06, 2008

Clergy Privilege Scope At Issue In Molestation Prosecution

A child molestation case in Riverside County, California is testing the reach of California's privilege for communications with clergy. Yesterday's Riverside Press-Enterprise reports that prosecutors want two elders in a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation to testify about statements made to them by Gilbert Simental, who is charged with molesting two of his daughter's friends. The victims' parents complained to congregational elders about the abuse, and the elders convened a judicial committee to look into the charges. Prosecutor Burke Strunsky says that Simental confessed to the judicial committee, and afterwards, Elder Andrew Sinay talked about the admissions with the girls' mother. Simental's attorneys say their client is innocent. Prosecutors will likely point to a 2005 decision by a Napa County court holding that statements by an accused molester made to Jehovah's Witnesses elders during a judicial committee are not covered by the penitent-clergy privilege because the committee is not required by the organization's practices to keep the statements confidential. The information goes to Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters, and it keeps a non-public database of those who elders have found committed child molestation.