Is A Discussion with my Priest Confidential?

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:

  • Priests

  • Rabbis

  • 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.

Contact The McKinney Law Group, your Tampa divorce lawyer, if you have any further questions or concerns regarding a confidential discussion with a priest or any other clergy member.

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 contact@themckinneylawgroup.com