• Statements Made To Clergy May Be Confidential
  • May 11, 2012
  • Law Firm: The Nichols Law Firm PLLC - East Lansing Office
  • If you tell your priest, minister or cleric something “in confidence,” - it should remain that way and your statements may not be used to prosecute you with your own words. That’s what the court of appeals recently said in People v Bragg (decided on May 9, 2012). The Michigan Court of Appeals stated that statements made to a pastor who was serving in his capacity as a pastor are privileged statements. The Bragg case involved a 15 year old male who was charged with first degree criminal sexual conduct for molesting his 10 year old cousin.  Both Mr. Bragg and the victim attended the same church.

    The cousin told her pastor about the incident.  The pastor then asked Mr. Bragg’s mother to bring him to the pastor’s office to talk.   Mr. Bragg and his mother both met with the pastor at his office and the pastor told him about the allegations. He eventually confessed and confirmed the molestation.

    At the preliminary examination the prosecution attempted to introduce the confession and Mr. Bragg objected to the admission of the testimony on the basis of the “priest-penitent” privilege (MCL 600.2156). The law prevents ministers and priests from divulging confessions made to them personally and “in the course of discipline enjoined by the rules or practice of such denomination.”The district court allowed the testimony and Mr. Bragg appealed to circuit court. The circuit court agreed with him and ruled that the pastor’s testimony should have been suppressed.    The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court decision recently and used 2 different legal privileges as the reason.

    The court of appeals also found admitting Mr. Bragg’s confession to his minister violated MCL 767.5a(2), known as “the cleric-congregant privilege”  It states that any communication between a cleric and a member of their respective congregation is considered to be “privileged and confidential” if the communications were necessary for the cleric to serve their purpose as a member of the clergy.  The Michigan Court Of Appeals then stated that the statements in question were in fact a communication and necessary for the pastor to fulfill his roll as a pastor and therefore “privileged and confidential.”

    If you are charged with a crime because of something you said to a minister, pastor, priest or other religious figure, it is important that you hire an attorney who understands the relevant statutes governing the confidentiality of such statements.  Contact the lawyer dedicated to your rights, with a master’s of law concentrating on criminal law. [email protected].