A Michigan appeals court heard arguments Thursday on a case questioning whether a member of the clergy could testify in court about what he learned through a confession.
Current state law says members of the clergy violate priest-penitent privilege if they disclose in court what they learn through confessions.
Pastor John Vaprezsan is the clergy member at the center of the case. Vaprezsan testified last March against Samuel Bragg, who is accused of raping a 9-year-old girl, in a preliminary examination. According to Vaprezsan, Bragg and his mother came to Metro Baptist Church late at night in 2009, and the then 17-year-old confessed that when he was 15, he raped the 9-year-old girl, reported the Detroit Free Press.
A lower court judge had threw out Vaprezsan's testimony. But the appeals court judges will now decide if the pastor's testimony can be used in the child rape case.
According to Michigan law, "No minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatsoever, or duly accredited Christian Science practitioner, shall be allowed to disclose any confessions made to him in his professional character, in the course of discipline enjoined by the rules or practice of such denomination."
In regards to the extent at which this rule is observed, some Michigan churches note that they either do not have this policy or that they follow it absolutely.
In Roman Catholicism, there is the "Seal of Confession," which requires a priest to keep confidential what he hears when people confess their sins as part of the sacrament of confession.
Michael Diebold, communication director for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, said, "This (confession is kept confidential) is part of our religion that we practice freely under the Constitution of the United States," according to Daily Press & Argus.
"I can't imagine a court would decide we need to violate our religious practice. It's an infringement on our religious freedom."
But Bobby Gilstrap, executive director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, told The Christian Post that Baptists "are not confessional in the sense of Catholic churches."
"A member of a congregation might seek spiritual counsel of their pastor. Under Michigan law, there are limited things that are protected. There is a requirement to report under many circumstances," said Gilstrap.