Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Court Says Priest-Penitent Privilege From Reporting Child Abuse May Be Unconstitutional

Delaware Code, Title 16, Chap. 9 requires reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect to authorities. Under Sec. 909, the only privileges that excuse reporting are the attorney-client privilege and the privilege "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."  State of Delaware v. Laurel Delaware Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, (DE Super., Jan. 26, 2016), is an enforcement action against elders of a Jehovah's Witness congregation who did not report a sexual relationship between a 14-year old boy and an adult female member of the congregation.  Defendants' motion to dismiss raised the question of whether this priest-penitent privilege applies to these elders. The court held that if the privilege language is read narrowly, it is unconstitutional because it creates an exception only for certain religious denominations.  Even if read more broadly to cover similar kinds of conversations with clergy, here the conversations with elders were for the purpose of seeking spiritual advice and counsel, and were likely not for the purpose of penitence. Reveal reports on the decision.