Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Clergy-Penitent Privilege Does Not Shield Disclosure of Writer of Defamatory Letter

In Jaime Doe v. Catholic Diocese of Rockford, (IL App., Sept. 4, 2015), plaintiff sued seeking the identity of the writer of an allegedly defamatory letter about her son.  The letter, sent to the pastor of the parish, alleged that plaintiff's son engaged in the sexual touching of another minor child.  The appeals court affirmed the trial court's order that the writer of the letter be disclosed.  In doing so, the court concluded that the letter is not covered by the Clergy-Penitent Privilege, saying in part:
The writer was a volunteer for a religious-education program conducted by the parish and had the responsibility of monitoring the children in the program. In our view, at least on the present record, the statements in issue are simply not of the character of a confession or admission for which the writer was seeking spiritual guidance. Rather, they are outlining a potential source of risk for the parish and the children if J. Doe were to repeat such conduct while participating in the educational program offered by the parish. This is fundamentally not a matter of conscience for the writer; rather it is a matter of risk management for the writer as an agent of the parish and a guardian of children. Accordingly, we hold that the clergy-penitent privilege is simply inapplicable.