Michigan Court to Hear Case on Pastor-Penitent Privilege

Wednesday, 08 Feb 2012 12:01 PM

By Andra Varin

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Michigan’s Court of Appeals will hear arguments Thursday on whether a rape suspect’s admission to his pastor can be used against him in court.

Defense attorney Raymond Cassar maintains that allowing the testimony of Samuel D. Bragg’s Baptist pastor would violate the state’s law protecting priest-penitent privilege.

"This is a very dangerous case because it could have very serious repercussions for religion," Cassar said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "If a pastor is allowed to testify against a member of his church about privileged communications, no one will want to confess their sins to their pastors."

But Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Teri Odette say privilege doesn’t apply here because the pastor was not giving spiritual guidance and a third party was present.

“The communication was initiated by the pastor — not by the defendant — and was done to ascertain whether the victim was telling the truth, not for the purpose of spiritual guidance," she said, according to the Free Press.

The case began in 2009 when a girl confided to her mother that Bragg had raped her two years earlier, when she was 9 years old, according to the Free Press. The mother then went to their church pastor, the Rev. John Vaprezsan of Metro Baptist Church in Belleville, Mich.

Vaprezsan, in turn, summoned Bragg, then 17, and his mother, who were also church members, to ask them whether the girl’s story was true. Vaprezsan testified at a preliminary hearing last March that Bragg had admitted that he raped the girl when he was 15 years old during a sleepover at his family’s house, the paper said.

A district court judge ordered Bragg to stand trial but threw out the pastor’s testimony, saying it violated penitent-priest confidentiality. The prosecutor appealed.


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