Do mandatory reporting laws override attorney/client privilege, confessional and spousal privilege?

I was reading something that noted Oklahoma (and perhaps other states, I do not know) has a mandatory reporting law (any one who becomes aware of child abuse must report it to the state) that covers everyone in the state.

My question is does this law over ride what are usually considered confidential communications (e.g. the confessional, talking to your attorney, etc.)?

It varies.

Regarding the confessional one, the priest will give a penance to the penitent, to be performed to indicate repentance & recompense for their sins. In such abuse cases, the penance will generally include speaking to authorities. Failure to perform the penance is a lack of repentance, and makes it an invalid confession.

I’m not sure this allows the priest to report the content of this confession to authorities, but he can certainly speak (nag) the penitent about it. But without that, he could take other actions, like refusing Communion to a person he knows is not ‘in a state of grace’.

Edward Peters, JD, JCD, Ref. Sig. Ap. is a canon lawyer who writes In the Light of the Law: A Canon Lawyer’s Blog.

Interestingly enough, he wrote a blog entry discussing the assertions made in this post. His conclusion:

He explains his reasoning and gives citations. It’s an interesting article. Read it if you have the time and are interested.

According to canon law, the seal of the confessional is inviolable under any circumstances. A priest is never allowed to report the content of a confession to anyone else, even under the threat of death to themselves or others.

No that movies are a great cite for canon law, but the plot of Hitchcock’s I Confess hinged on this, when a priest is unable to reveal the identity of a murderer who has confessed to him even when he is under trial himself for a crime. (I recall this movie being brought up by the priest who taught our religion class in parochial school as an example of how inviolable Confession was.)

In my province of Ontario, physicians have an obligation (legal and/or professional, with violation of the latter constituting ‘professional misconduct’) to report the following:

  • child abuse (in all its forms)
  • impaired driving ability, e.g. dementia, alcohol abuse
  • resident harm caused by, or suspected to be caused by, staff of ‘nursing homes’, i.e. health facilities
  • “reasonable grounds” for suspicion of sexual abuse of a patient (by another MD or “health professional”)

Reporting any of the above supersedes any issues of privilege, privacy, or confidentiality.

Missed the edit window.
One more:

  • to prevent harm (i.e. there is a clear risk to an identifiable person or a group of persons; there is a risk of serious bodily harm or death; the danger is imminent)

Can a priest fudge this a bit? E.g. Call the police and say that someone had confessed to them they were abusing a child. They cannot say who it was but perhaps this will give police a place to start.

How could this possibly work? I mean, I’m pretty sure the police know that child abuse is happening somewhere. How can this start an investigation without the priest giving the police some pertinent information?

They can start interviewing people in the congregation. Or something.

Granted congregations can be anywhere from a handful of people to thousands so I suppose it is of not much use but maybe a start (e.g. have a detective attend services and see if he/she can spot kids who show outward signs of abuse…either physical or behavioral).

I would think they could go so far as to identify the child, just not the perpetrator. But I really don’t know.

To the best of my knowledge, they cannot transmit any information revealed in confession to anyone, anonymously or not.

This is a religious restriction, right? A priest opting to supply information learned in a confession would not face any legal sanctions, unlike, for instance, a lawyer violating attorney-client privilege?

The information may not be allowed as evidence in trial. Depending on the state or federal jurisdiction, only the penitent is allowed to release privilege. All information obtained by the priest breaking the privilege may be fruit of the poisonous tree and therefore inadmissible.

And I don’t think there’s any legal ramifications for the lawyer who breaks attorney-client privilege. There will be professional ramifications and perhaps a civil case, and the information won’t be admitted into evidence, but I’m not sure what crime you could charge the lawyer with.

The only penalty faced by a priest would be excommunication, that is, a religious penalty. A priest could technically face legal penalties from not revealing information, but this may vary by jurisdiction. In practice I doubt that it would be pursued even if legally required.

Those are legal ramifications.

In what sense? Are they specified by laws passed by legislatures or other governmental bodies? (I am not being snarky. I am genuinely asking.)

I understand that violating professional standards could result in disbarment/loss of license, and a lawyer thus would be unable to practice, but that seems to me to be an indirect consequence.

I suppose you could disagree about whether losing a license issued by a government body is a a legal ramification, but a civil suit certainly is.
An earlier poster used the phrase “legal ramifications” as if that phrase was synonymous with “charged with a crime” , but it isn’t.

But the same ramifications (civil suit, defrocked) apply to the priest. In this context I believe the question was about criminal charges.

Ok but wouldn’t it still serve to have the police/state agency take a closer look at the child that is being abused? Which is to say even if the information cannot be used in court can’t they use the information to take a closer look and, if they find evidence on their own, still bust the abuser without needing to use the initial informer’s information in court?