Understand what forms of communication are covered by the penitent privelege.
Georgia has codified the clergy penitent privilege in O.C.G.A section 24-9-22. Because of the broad language of this code section every form of communication is covered, including oral, written or electronic.
Understand who the privilege belongs to.
The privilege applies to any person professing religious faith, seeking spiritual guidance or seeking counseling from a minister, priest or rabbi by whatever name called.
Understand the scope of communications which are privileged
Only communications made to clergy by persons professing religious faith, seeking spiritual guidance or counseling are covered. Conversational statements made to a minister outside of professions of faith unrelated to spiritual guidance or counseling are not covered. There are also specific statutory exceptions to the scope of the privilege. Under Georgia law suspected child abuse must be reported by mandatory reporters notwithstanding that the communication was privileged or confidential. O.C.G.A. 19-7-5(g). Although clergy or ministers are not specifically defined by the statue as mandatory reporters they could likely fall within the definition of another category of mandatory reporters such as "child service organization personnel". For example if the clergy's church provides services to children such as Sunday school, kids church, nursery services, etc., then a court would likely deem the minster to be a mandatory reporter. In such a case the privilege would not apply.
Understand the requirements of the privilege
A minister, priest, rabbi, etc. shall not disclose any communications made to him by such persons. In fact under Georgia law and subject to exceptions a minister is not competent or compellable to testify in any court regarding such communications.
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