Indecent assault and battery on a child and violation of an abuse prevention order.
Defendant, a friend of the victim’s grandparents, molested the victim in her home while staying there. The defendant subsequently went to his pastor, who knew the defendant, the victim, and the victim’s family. The defendant asked the pastor to tell the victim’s family that he was sorry and did not intend to hurt anyone. He claimed that he was not taking his medication and blamed the abuse on his confusion with pornographic material on television. The defendant also requested that the pastor try to convince the family to resolve the sexual abuse issue through the church and not take it to court. After multiple requests, the pastor eventually relayed the defendant’s messages to the family, who had already reported the crime to the police and obtained an abuse prevention order for the whole family against the defendant. At trial, the pastor testified about his communications with the defendant, to which the defendant did not object. The defendant was convicted.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the pastor violated his priest-penitent privilege by testifying in court about his confessions and communications requesting that the priest communicate with the family on his behalf. The court disagreed, reasoning as follows:
Privileges must be strictly construed and the priest-penitent privilege only applies to communications where the penitent seeks religious or spiritual counseling. The privilege does not apply when a penitent requests that his conversations be shared with a third party. Thus, because the defendant on multiple occasions requested that the pastor disclose their communications to the victim and her family, the privilege did not apply. Moreover, because the defendant requested that the priest disclose their communications in violation of an existing abuse prevention order, the priest-penitent privilege did not apply because his intentions were clearly to use the pastor to facilitate an illegal third-party communication.
Submitted By: Katherine Ramsey -- Law Student