Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This post is for the pastors out there--specifically PCUSA pastors. I have been served a subpoena in a divorce case. The person wanting me to testify is the one who comes to my church. He has never talked to me about testifing. I received the subpoena through the mail. I have contacted GA lawyers and am still waiting for their return call.

My fear is that people will be hesitant to confide in me if there is the possiblily that I could be called to testify.

Has this happened to any of you? How about confidentiality issues? What did you do?

Please post to this blog or if it is too confidential I can be emailed at:



At 9:22 PM , Blogger William Cornwall said...

It is my understanding that someone who is a spiritual adviser cannot be required to answer questions relating to things that were told him in confidence. Also, repeating what one party has told you is purely hearsay and that is not admissible evidence in court either. Now if this other party made speeches in public or displays in public during worship or open meetings then you could be required to testify to that because that is something that everybody present could equally testify about. I would think there would be very little that you could actually say on the witness stand. However, it may be very likely that even though subpoenoed and have to appear that you will not actually be put on the stand. But when you are "briefed" by your parishoner's attorney I would be very clear that you cannot testify to anything that was told you in confidence. Anything public that both you and others have actually seen is okay. At that point they probably will not consider you a worthwhile witness and will not even call you. I am not a pastor nor am I an attorney but I was involved in a situation once where my pastor volunteered to come to court to give testimony. But I told my attorney that I did not want my Christian faith and those things with which I had confided in my pastor to be public knowledge and I was afraid that if he were put on the stand he would be compelled to answer any direction they chose to go toward.
My attorney told me not to worry because as your spiritual adviser he cannot be required to testify to things told him in confidence.
Also, the judge will not allow it to be a fishing expedition probing into things that do not pertain to the case at hand. I will always be thankful that my pastor wanted to help me but it was decided that his testimony was not vital and would not carry much weight.

I know I have been redundant but I hope it puts you a little bit at ease.

At 6:12 AM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Hi, Lance. I'm not a pastor, but I am an attorney and I used to do trial work.

William Cornwall's advice is sound. You can refuse to testify to confidential information, but you can be required to testify if the information is public and not part of a protected communication between a parishioner and a pastor.

There is another exception, and that is if you have information about actual or possible abuse of a child you are obligated to testify about that, even if that is the result of a confidential and otherwise privileged communication. Of course if you learned about something like that you are legally obligated to report it to the authorities, anyway.

My advice is for you to contact this attorney and ask what type of testimony he expects to get from you and tell him or her whether or not that is privileged information.

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