Clergy confidentiality at issue in Amish bishop’s case

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

May 10, 2020

By Peter Smith

The criminal complaint against the Amish bishop is clear about how he learned of a church member’s alleged sexual assault on three young teenage girls:

“John G. Beiler confessed the sexual assault incidents to Bishop Levi S. Esh Sr.,” says the complaint, pending in Lancaster County and filed by Pequea police in April.

“Confessed.” Whether the case moves forward could hinge on that word.

In April, Pequea police charged Mr. Esh, 63, with felony and misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse to authorities after Mr. Beiler allegedly confessed to the sexual assaults.

The case is believed to be the first in Lancaster County — hub of the nation’s largest population of Amish — in which one of their spiritual leaders is charged with violating a Pennsylvania law that includes clergy among those mandated to report suspected child abuse.

But Pennsylvania law allows a privilege, or exemption, for clergy who learn about suspected abuse in “confidential communications” while in the course of their “duties.”

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