Can a Minister Testify Against a Church Member?A Michigan Appeals Court has a decision to make worthy of the biblical King Solomon.  Solomon, the King of ancient Israel, once decided on a case which involved which mother was truly the parent of a baby.  Solomon wisely ordered that the child be cut in two (1 Kings 3:16-28).  When the real mother cried out in protest ready to drop her claim on the baby to save him, Solomon had his answer.  Even Solomon would have a hard time making a decision about the Michigan case outlined below.

Rev. John Vaprezsan, pastor of the Metro Baptist Church in Belleville, Michigan received a call from a distraught mother in 2009 stating that her 9 year old daughter had been sexually assaulted by another church member when he was15.  The minister called the accused into his office, along with his mother.  The young man, then 17, confessed to the crime.  According the minister, the young man confessed. The minister, who is also a mandated reporter of child sexual and physical abuse, made a statement to law enforcement authorities and the young man, Samuel Bragg, was arrested.

At odds are two cherished ideals of the church and ministers.  The first is that the so-called seal of the confessional is sacrosanct.  The need for human beings to seek spiritual comfort and faith as they understand it is extremely important to emotional health.  Within the Catholic faith tradition, confession to a church authority is considered a sacrament of the church.  Formal confession offered in an atmosphere of strict confidentiality is a tradition of Catholicism dating back to the first century.  Catholic priests are not permitted to divulge a confession under pains of excommunication.  The Judeo-Christian tradition supports this same sense of confidentiality about information offered to the leaders of faith communities.  Church leaders believe that without this protection, many people tormented by guilt would not seek out help from a priest, rabbi, or minister.

The second ideal is the notion of a minister or other religious leader being part of a loving network of school, religious, and parental authorities who serve as the “village” that it takes these days to raise a child.  In this capacity, the minister is also a mandated reporter by law of child abuse.  As the 9-year-old’s pastor, he was under an obligation to protect her from a sexual predator.  This young girl’s mother sought out the help of her pastor and he took what he thought was appropriate action to assist.

Now it is up to three judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals to determine whether the minister’s statement to police can be used against Bragg.

Two Michigan laws state that a minister cannot reveal conversations he engages in associated with his or capacity as a church leader.  These laws are at variance in this situation with the minister’s duty as a mandated reporter of child abuse.  Would King Solomon know what do to do? I’m not sure what I think about this, but I’d like to learn what LET members have to say.

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