For clergy this issue of confidentiality goes much deeper than just keeping secrets. As a doctrine of some faiths, clergy are obligated to maintain privileged communications. In Christian denominations this is especially true, where the idea of confidence is directly implied in the practice of confession. “For Anglican and Roman Catholic priests, confession has sacramental significance, and whatever information is revealed is held in confidence by the seal of confession, with no exceptions” (Fortune). In such cases, any law that mandates reporting would directly violate the freedom of Religion act. While clergy have the right to evoke privilege, courts typically allow clergy who are mandatory reporters of child abuse excuse from duty if the information came through privileged communication (Hammar 128).
Consequently, there has been much debate over the constitution of privileged communication. “In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister in confidence” (Hammar 107). This would generally mean that there are no other persons around, and that the communication is of a professional capacity between a congregant and spiritual advisor. This key to interpreting the clergy-penitent privilege means that information obtained at a church picnic while people play volley ball is not privileged. Likewise, if after a service a person begins discussing issues with a pastor while people are lingering in the back of the auditorium, it is not legally in confidence, and can be shared without breaking privilege.
Without a law requiring reporting, clergy who break confidence to report could be seen as untrustworthy by their congregation, and since Alaska law doesn’t adjure “any person” to report abuse under the Child-Welfare Act, it leaves ministers holding the ball. Certainly responding to such issues is never easy, but there is a system of child protective services right here in Alaska that can protect the child and help the abuser rehabilitate. It is unwise for a clergyperson to attempt to deal with situations that he or she neither have the skills nor resources for. Giving the minister an out, by creating a law for these situations, is necessary.