Church Therapists: Privileged Communication?

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The New York Times published an article by Ralph Blumenthal last week about a lawsuit against a church therapist who disclosed the wife's infidelities. The Texas Supreme Court is poised to consider the issue. I breezed by the column a few days ago, but then decided to revisit posting here as I considered that many mega-churches have in-house psychologists who do marriage counseling as well as personal counseling.
"Peggy Lee Penley’s marriage was going sour when she turned to her pastor. They had been friends for years and had started a Bible church together in Fort Worth. He was more than Ms. Penley’s spiritual shepherd, also serving as a licensed professional counselor, and had helped her before.
But Ms. Penley says that after she confided her sexual relationship with another man and her plans for divorce, the pastor, C. L. Westbrook Jr., disclosed her “biblically inappropriate relationship” to church elders. Mr. Westbrook eventually informed the full congregation of the church, CrossLand Community Bible, she says, shaming her publicly and urging members to discipline her by shunning her.
In 2001, Ms. Penley sued her pastor for defamation and negligence, saying he had violated his responsibilities as a professional counselor. Her lawsuit has attracted considerable attention from church groups trying to prevent court intervention in religious matters. The case went before the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday, and the outcome will once again help define the evolving line between church and state."
Word to the wise: Until the law in this area is sorted out, advise your clients to be careful in whom they confide!

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