Idaho law protects clergy from divulging confidential information

Credit: KTVB

Stephen Young

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by Ty Brennan

KTVB.COM

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 6:42 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 4 at 10:14 PM

BOISE -- Several months after a former Boise Police officer turned himself in for crimes against children, prosecutors have decided that members of his church, who knew about the crimes but didn't come forward, will not face charges.

Stephen Young was sentenced in September to 25 years in prison for one count of sexual battery with a child.

After the crimes had been committed Young confessed to 15 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  But, because of a little known Idaho law, they will not face charges.

That law is called the clergy privilege law.  The law protects church members from having their conversations with church leaders used against them in court, and that same law also protects clergy members who are often privy to sensitive information that impacts the spiritual lives of their church members.

"That's a duty imposed by tradition," said attorney David Leroy.  "It's a duty imposed by religion. It's a duty in Idaho imposed by statute."

David Leroy is a former Idaho attorney general.  He says the clergy privilege law has been around for centuries. It protects church members from having their confidential information exposed after they've confided in members of the clergy.

"The church member who is given confidential, religious confessional information has a duty not to disclose that information to anybody including courts of law," said Leroy.

Many professions have a confidential privilege in Idaho -- including lawyers, doctors and accountants, just to name a few.  But when it comes to pastors, priests, rabbis, bishops or any church leader - there’s a big difference.

"For instance the rules of professional conduct for lawyers do allow you, under certain circumstances where someone is going to be harmed or a crime is going to be committed to give a disclosure," said Leroy.

"But that wouldn't be the same as for clergy?" asked NewsChannel 7.

"There is no such specific rule for clergy," replied Leroy.

In other words, clergy members are not required to blow the whistle even when they know crimes are being committed and even when children are involved.

"In the case of future intended and potential harmful conduct, I think every professional in Idaho would attempt to preserve the confidence, to discourage the conduct that's proposed and to intervene if and as necessary," said Leroy.

We received this statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about this case:

"The Church made sure Mr. Young was removed from his home, and it took additional measures to protect known victims.  There was also a clear understanding between Mr. Young and Church leaders that his actions needed to be reported to the police.  Church leaders did all they could while complying with Idaho law that protects Mr. Young's confession to clergy and also avoiding any actions that might compromise the eventual investigation of Mr. Young's crimes.”

The statement goes on to say anytime a church leader becomes aware of abuse of a child, spouse or other person, the church leader will urge the member to report these activities to law enforcement.

Some states have tried to be more specific and define what a member of clergy actually is, however in Idaho, a clergy member is broadly defined and can be anyone an individual believes is clergy at the time they make their confession.

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