For penitent people of many different faith backgrounds, it is a common practice to confess sins to a priest, rabbi or member of the clergy.
For the penitent, it is important to know whether the information discussed with a priest or clergy member is truly confidential.
If information discussed was not confidential, then confessing to sinful behavior could ultimately lead to a clergy member testifying against the penitent person in a legal proceeding.
Florida Law on Privileged Communication With Clergy
Florida statue does allow for privileged communication with a “member of the clergy”, as outlined in Section 90.505 of the 2016 Florida Statutes. The first part of this law defines who a “member of the clergy” is, citing the following as clergy members:
- Christian Science practitioners
- Ministers of any religious organization or denomination typically referred to as a church
- A person reasonably believed to be a member of the clergy by the person consulting with them
In effect, this provides a narrowed yet still broad scope of individuals who a penitent individual may discuss confidential information with in a way that could be privileged.
With these limitations in mind, Florida law also expressly sets out what classifies as as a confidential communication between an individual and a member of the clergy. For a discussion to be classified under Florida law, the communication must:
- Be made privately
- Be discussed for the purpose of receiving spiritual counsel and advice from the clergy member in their usual course of practice or discipline
- Not be intended for further disclosure except to other people present to the discussion who further the communication
If a discussion is confidential according to these parameters, then the individual who held a conversation with the clergy member may both refuse to disclose the information as well as prevent others from disclosing the confidential communication.
This confidential privilege can be claimed by:
- The person discussing matters with the clergy member
- The person’s guardian or conservator
- The personal representative of the person if they are deceased
- The clergy member, on the person’s behalf
There are times, however, when clergy members are obligated to disclose a confidential communication. Florida law requires all persons, including clergy members, to report abuse, abandon or neglect of a child when those persons know or have reasonable cause to suspect that such abuse has taken place.
In addition to this exception, the person who discusses a confidential matter with a clergy member may choose to waive their confidentiality privilege.
If you have questions regarding custody and divorce, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]