Any church has its secrets. I don’t mean the “skeletons in the closet” kind. But spiritual life can be a highly personal and even private affair. Pastors and priests come into contact with some highly sensitive information, and they are sought out to provide spiritual counsel and direction in sensitive and confidential situations. The church itself is likely to be privy to information about its members that these individuals may not want shared. In certain circumstances, a church can be held liable for invading privacy. It is therefore important that a church take measures to ensure that certain information is kept confidential.
The first step is for the church’s leadership to be aware that confidential information should be handled with care and exposing confidential information must only be done after careful consideration. Additionally, a church may want to consider a confidentiality policy that includes explicit expectations of anyone who may be exposed to sensitive information, including guidelines for what to do in the case of inappropriate inquiries (such as what should be done when someone calls a church office requesting, say, the phone number or address of a congregant).
The kinds of information that a church should plan to keep confidential are various, and may include such elements as the minutes at board meetings (especially when issues that could be considered sensitive come under discussion); records concerning the contributions made by members; and notes taken by pastors or church counselors during counseling sessions with congregants; among others.In some cases, it is important that certain confidential information, such as notes on counseling sessions, should only be accessed by the pastor taking the notes and not by any other church employee.
Churches have a lot to be aware of and to consider these days. A policy on confidential information may or may not be right for your church. Passing a complicated and lengthy policy that a small church can never abide by can also do more harm than good. In these situations, it may be helpful for the church to seek the advice of an attorney regarding what policies and procedures are important. Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys can help a church and its members to ensure they have the proper level of confidentiality in place. We also counsel churches through the process of any transaction, and we stand ready to counsel and serve charities, foundations, private schools, colleges, universities and other types of nonprofit organizations—providing broad transactional and general counsel services in Arizona and surrounding areas. Contact us to learn more.