Scientology Invokes Clergy-Penitent Privilege To Refuse Discovery In Forced Abortion Case

488px-scientology_symbolsvgThere is an interesting case brewing between Scientology and one of the many former members alleging abuse by the church. While not attracting much attention in the main stream press, Anti-scientology sites have been following an important case out of California where an appellate court has turned down a claim of the church that it can refuse discovery under clergy-penitent privilege. The church is using the privilege to deny a demand for a “pc folder” containing notes from interrogations of Laura DeCrescenzo by church officials. The case is important not only in the understanding of the privilege but a potential breakthrough for alleged victims of the church who accuse Scientology of being a cult or criminal organization.

The case involves an alleged forced abortion of Laura DeCrescenzo. She filed a complaint against Scientology in April 2009 alleging that she began working for Scientology at the age of nine. By ten, she said that she was working full time and then left her family to move to another state to work for the Church for less than minimum wage (a common complaint in lawsuits against the Church). She alleged that she married a co-worker at the age of sixteen and became pregnant. She says that church officials forced her to have an abortion at the age of seventeen. She says that she was made a member of the Sea Org which is often accused of abuses of members who must sign a contract for “the next billion years.”

The claim of Scientology is interesting because the subject of the sessions is the one seeking the folder. These folders are key pieces of evidence in church litigation but Scientology insists that they are like confessions or other religious rites. Yet, it is the Church that is being accused of the abuse. Scientology has until May 6th to turn over the documents and has decided to appeal. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sohigian has agreed to create a new production date in light of the appeal.

In its opposition, Scientology insists that confidentiality is key to its religion. The record in the case, and the second motion to compel, is an insight into the Scientology’s reputation for scorched earth litigation.

California codified the privilege in
Section 1032 defines “penitential communication” as “a communication made in confidence, in the presence of no third person so far as the penitent is aware, to a member of the clergy who, in the course of the discipline or practice of the clergy member’s church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications and, under the discipline or tenets of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.” To invoke this privilege, the Church must show the penitential communication (1) was intended to be in confidence; (2) was made to a member of the clergy who in the course of his or her religious discipline or practice is authorized or accustomed to hear such communications; and (3) the member of the clergy “has a duty under the discipline or tenets of the church, religious denomination or organization to keep such communications secret.” People v. Edwards 203 Cal. App. 3d 1358, 1362–1363 (1988).
In Trammel v. United States, 445 U.S. 40 (1980), the Supreme Court held that “The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return.”

That would seem to describe this type of session, though this is being sought by one of the two people in the “penitential communication” who is accusing the other party and the Church of abuse. The Church has previously sought to deny discovery on the basis of the privilege. It was unsuccessful in People v. Thompson, 133 Cal. App. 3d 419 (1982), the California Court of Appeal upheld the admission of internal communications on the basis that it found that the Church member was not ordained as an “auditor” or minister of the Church of Scientology and there was no expectation of confidentiality.

These cases present difficult challenges when the session itself is part of the allegation of abusive and coercive acts in the lawsuit.

What do you think?

Kudos: Michael Barger

32 thoughts on “Scientology Invokes Clergy-Penitent Privilege To Refuse Discovery In Forced Abortion Case”

  1. @ travelinglimey so are you saying all the people who left cos are liars? and that includes davids niece i cant remember her name right now but ive read many and i do mean many stories by ex cos members who were declared sp’s for not doing what the midget told them. what about all the elders who were with ron? many who are still alive but in the hole are their family members also liars? and you told a outright lie about the money being put back into cos. if it were then why is david the only one who lives in luxury? you do know that the secret or should i say open secret about the alien site is all over the net along with pictures right? yea i dont think that Mark Rathburn is lying nor any of the others who left when they noticed david changing the protocols of cos. these are people who were involved with cos for 20-30 yrs. and they are still being harassed today. what about all the lawsuits? all the broken marriages? and please explain the deaths to me beginning with Lisa Mcphersons? have you heard of the site ” Operation Clambake” if not i urge you to read it.. also check out Marks blog ” Moving on up a little higher.. the ex members left because david changed it all to suit him and the celebrities and even they are beginning to wake up to the nefariousness of the cos. heres a question i would really like you to answer..

    what exactly do thetans need with money? arent they aliens who bought humans down to earth and dropped them off into a volcano? what does a church need with private investigators? oh and you obviously havent seen the videos on the net taken by ex members being harassed by current members of cos. boy thats some religion you believe in. nothing about cos is good. for anyone. marraiges being broken up, excommunicated from your family if they decide not to join or to leave cos.. what GOD IS THAT? how about those 2 little soup cans named a e-meter.? i also understand david no longer supports training auditors. smh. if you havent read the sites heres a couple of links for you….

    this link is to operation clambake

    maybe after you read if you decide to read a few of the ex members sites you might change your defense of cos…

    and NO im not nor have i ever even thought of being a member of cos. i got interested after coming across operation clambake a few yrs ago while looking for a recipe for clams for a fish fry we were having… i am curious about what makes people give up their lives, family and money to a thing that makes a slave out of them.. with no remorse

  2. In light of allegations that the church regularly publishes materials disclosed in its confessionals to discredit individuals who resigned from and now oppose the church I find their present argument at least contemptuous of the court. Wish I were the judge – I’d hang them.

  3. Thank you for writing about this important case and the church’s current efforts to avoid producing the documents.

    As you probably know by now, they are petitioning the CA Supreme Ct, claiming that the current Priest-Penitent law is unconstitutional.

    There is no end to what this church won’t do to evade this order via the courts. It is in the public’s interest to know what is happening in this case and I appreciate your bringing it to a wider audience.

  4. “Somebody some day will say ‘this is illegal.’ By then be sure the orgs say what is legal or not.”
    – L. Ron Hubbard, Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, 4 January 1966

    “Orgs” are scientology churches, for those who do not know.

  5. Another twist to this case is that the files in her pc folder were not kept confidential between her and the “priest”. They were sent on along the lines and reviewed by others. I believe the claim is that she hasn’t even met many of the people who have read her “private and privileged” information and that hundreds of people are involved on the church’s side.

  6. To become a member of Scientology’s “clergy” they have to pass a 15 hour ministers course.

  7. blhlls:

    Thanks for the correction. That does present a serious problem. It means that one has to argue that the communications do not fit within the statutory definitions.

  8. some sass catch you on dunes,
    and some cash shew things.
    there are opt-shuns on the shelf.
    donald trump said fa’t-wa’-ge to d’ saudis.
    the president will never have a security clearance high enough to look at any ceiling while he is asleep. prezzies clear-ance is nothing compared to those that work for THE TRINITY. information is sent to Their computer. WE go into u.s. government, and other buildings, get names of people. WE never use any device other than THE HOLY SPIRIT. It is sent, and red on a normal computer. the history is then recorded.

    all sins are fore told.

    WE go in and listen, to stories, and employees at every level. WE write from chairity.
    WE get called racial names, and harrassed. many of them wear crosses, and other reigious icons. some people throw pay-purrs down, and some spit on floors without hesitation. WE go in and listen, and get treated like trash.
    some people, or employees were crosses,
    the are from any race group,
    we have your names on file,
    your pictures on file,
    and the movies too.

    IF there is a rapeture like the antichrists preach, there would only be a few thousand people.
    they would only be in the united states.
    they were chosen by THE HOLY SPIRIT,
    and GOD.
    none were chosen by OUR SON JESUS.

    in the bushes there were dem ledg’s-laters, and cheney too.
    the war will be over oil, and the oyl is palm. one good jerk will bring an other.


    if those that have walked in the SHADOW of GOD were to have read the signs they would act-ually have shit ax’s and judges…
    … the fat lady ways’n.
    the fat lady is an addage’.
    take your prezzy.

  9. Mike A.: The problem with that analysis is the structure of the statutes at issue. The California Evidence Code as adopted in 1965 contained a comprehensive statutory scheme separately laying out each privilege and the exceptions to that privilege. The scheme as a whole reflects individual consideration of each privilege and the circumstances under which the particular privilege should not apply. For example, there is no attorney/client privilege if the lawyer was consulted to facilitate a crime or fraud, or the disclosure is likely to prevent a criminal act likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm. The priest-penitent privilege is laid out in the same way as the others. However, it has an additional section permitting the clergy person to hold the privilege and it is not followed by any exceptions. Presumably, had the legislature wished to include exceptions it would have done so as it did with all the others.

  10. The clergy-penitent privilege serves an important purpose, but it is called a privilege because its recognition is not mandated as a fundamental right. That means that it is subject to exceptions to prevent fraud and abuse. Whether the privilege should be held applicable to the discovery sought by plaintiff in this case ought to turn on whether it is being asserted for its intended purpose or to hide evidence of wrongdoing, a mixed issue of fact and law. The identity of the religious body claiming the benefit of the privilege has no bearing per se on the nature of the court’s inquiry.

  11. Thanks for the input, Nal. I’ve pretty well had my say on this & already answered the naysayers. But there is a very real error in calling it a forced abortion case; not only is that unlikely, its incorrect to state an accusation as if it were already proven. That’s the whole point of law & legal procedure. Frankly, I believe both sides & the judge should be seeking the truth in any legal case, civil or criminal. We generally have the next best thing where one side tries to prove it one way & the other side tries to prove the opposite. Lawyers make more money that way & both themselves & prosecutors, big name defenders too, sometimes, get to bend the truth more in their own direction & get away with it. The judge is supposed to get to the truth of the matter & occasionally does so, Anyway, lets drop the bias on the title & use the right word: ALLEGED..

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