BREAKING: Michigan Appeals Court Protects Pastoral Communications

The Michigan Appeals Court has ruled this morning in favor of confidentiality, in a landmark case involving communication between clergy and church members. 

The case involves Samuel Bragg, a member of Metro Baptist Church in Belleville, Michigan.  Bragg was still a teenager in 2007 when, it is alleged, he sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl at the church.  When Bragg’s mother found out about it two years later, she took 17-year-old Samuel with her to meet with their pastor, Rev. John Vaprezsan.  Pastor Vaprezsan was contacted by the police, and provided a statement; and based on the pastor’s testimony, Bragg was charged with criminal sexual conduct.

I first reported on the case in February, when the Appeals Court judges heard oral arguments.  The headline at the time erroneously focused on the “Seal of Confession”—but, as I pointed out in my earlier report, this was not a sacramental confession, since it was not a Catholic church. 

This morning, the appeals court ruled that prosecutors can’t use a pastor’s testimony in a sexual assault case, since state law protects communications between clergy and church members.  Prosecutors had argued that the pastor’s testimony should have been allowed, in part because Bragg was accompanied by his mother when he talked with the pastor.  The appeals court disagreed, ruling that the mother’s presence doesn’t erase an expectation of confidentiality under law.

It remains to be seen whether the case will eventually end up in the Supreme Court. 

My earlier report details the case and explains the sacrament of confession, as well as the Michigan state laws and the articles of Canon Law which apply in this case.

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