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Author Topic: Sacrosanctity of Orthodox confessions and confessors  (Read 7804 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: August 18, 2007, 10:46:40 PM »

A Lutheran pastor, who is a friend of mine, once remarked that if he were to hear the confession of a murderer or anyone else who is charged with a  crime by the state, that the pastor can be forced by the state to testify against the person who made confession to his person or risk going to jail.  He said that the state does not grant Lutheran pastors a seal as it does to Roman Catholic Priests.  My question:  Do Orthodox priests enjoy the same privilege as Roman Catholic priests as far as penitent-confessor privilege? Thanks.
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« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2007, 10:51:09 PM »

I was once told that Orthodox priests were obligated to report serious crimes to the proper authorities, and couldn't keep it confidential. I, for one, certainly hope so. If someone is molesting their daughter or murdering their neighbor, they need to be dealt with by the civil authorities immediately.
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« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2007, 10:52:53 PM »

Told by whom?
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« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2007, 10:55:50 PM »

If you are asking me, this was a question that came up on a yahoo discussion group I was a part of maybe 6 years ago. There were a number of priests on the list, and that's the answer that was given.
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« Reply #4 on: August 18, 2007, 10:57:22 PM »

By a number of priests?
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« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2007, 10:59:02 PM »

Well I don't remember how many priests answered that particular question. There were less than a hundred people on the entire list (it was a rather cozy community), a few of which were clergy, and at least one priest answered. It's certainly possible that I'm misinformed...? though I hope not in this case.
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« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2007, 10:59:34 PM »

I was once told that Orthodox priests were obligated to report serious crimes to the proper authorities, and couldn't keep it confidential.
Where is this the law?

Quote
I, for one, certainly hope so. If someone is molesting their daughter or murdering their neighbor, they need to be dealt with by the civil authorities immediately.
Yes, they do.  But the priest is charged by his ordination to keep the secrets revealed to him in Confession to his very grave.  Even if civil law requires him to reveal some secrets of the confessional, the priest can be defrocked by his bishop for doing so.  If any sins are to be revealed to the civil authorities as crimes, it is for the priest to instruct the penitent to turn himself in.  At least this is how I, a layman, understand this.  Maybe Fr. Chris can enlighten this discussion from his clerical perspective.
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« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2007, 11:00:20 PM »

I do not know of any Orthodox priest informing the authorities himself, but I do know of priests who have told the penitent to also confess to the authorities as a penance.
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« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2007, 11:05:35 PM »

Peter,

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Where is this the law?

I doubt it's written in a canon somewhere, if that's what you're asking for.

Quote
Yes, they do.  But the priest is charged by his ordination to keep the secrets revealed to him in Confession to his very grave.  Even if civil law requires him to reveal some secrets of the confessional, the priest can be defrocked by his bishop for doing so.  If any sins are to be revealed to the civil authorities as crimes, it is for the priest to instruct the penitent to turn himself in.  At least this is how I, a layman, understand this.  Maybe Fr. Chris can enlighten this discussion from his clerical perspective.

Surely it would be better for the person to turn themselves in, whether it's a priest being confessed to or just a best friend or family member. I suppose giving a penance of turning yourself in would be a good thing, though if that didn't work, it'd be rather difficult to stay quiet about some things.
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« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2007, 11:06:34 PM »

I do not know of any Orthodox priest informing the authorities himself, but I do know of priests who have told the confessor to also confess to the authorities as a penance.
Technically, AFAIK, the confessor is the priest to whom sins are being confessed; the person confessing his sins is called a penitent.  Sorry to be a nitpick, but I think a proper understanding of these two terms is very important to effective communication on this topic.
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« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2007, 11:15:06 PM »

PtA, thanks for the correction. I've changed my original post.
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2007, 01:02:40 AM »

Nothing told to Christ in Confession and witnessed by me can be divulged. Full stop.

However, there is always the counseling after the confession. Yes, if/when criminal activity is confessed, I do my best to reinforce to the penitent the importance of being repentant, part of which is setting the record straight.

Yes, I've driven children to stores to apologize to the store owner for stealing something, but it's the child who does all the talking; I say nothing.

If a person confesses something criminal to me that would be such as murder, child molestation, etc I would do all I could to help the penitent go to the legal authorities and help the victim or family have peace of mind. Thank God nothing like that has occurred yet....I have enough trouble with 'incense getting in my eyes' when hearing the pain caused to my parishioners from "every day" sins, and nothing as demonic as violent crime.

But, nothing said in Confession can be divulged. Ever.
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2007, 01:06:27 AM »

You know Father, that's funny cuz I just talked to a priest in California last week who said that if someone is a murder or child molester, etc. then he IS REQUIRED BY LAW to report it....

I was always under the assumption that priests do NOT divulge info...even if the law DOES require it. 
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2007, 01:21:14 AM »

It is dicey, and that is why we must counsel the penitent to go to the authorities. However, I am certain that in the laws of Alabama the state cannot compel a priest to divulge anything discussed in Confession. California--well, who knows?

Actually, the penitent going to the police is not as hard as it sounds. The fact that a person who has committed the crime goes to the trouble to go to confession  shows that the Spirit is working in a special way to bring the penitent back to his senses. From there the penitent may need someone to accompany him to the police station out of fear, but he's already made the majority of the trip emotionally to the police station.

This is also why, before anyone goes in for drug rehab, they should also go to Confession. The folks I have driven to the drug rehab center after Confession have not (yet) fallen back; others not taking this step are in a revolving door.

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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2007, 08:52:37 PM »

That is unfortunate  Undecided 
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« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2007, 09:13:02 PM »

That is unfortunate  Undecided 
How so?
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« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2007, 09:35:57 PM »

While there are more objective reasons, it's mostly personal for me. When I was a kid, I lived in a house where abuse (physical and otherwise) was not uncommon. To think that someone, in the know, could have helped end the problem, but refused to make a call to the police because of some religious principle... that I find to be... unfortunate (to put it mildly). I'm sure that most situations are as Fr. Chris mentions: that a person confessing to something means that they are already on the path to truly being sorry, and already preparing to face the consequences. Nonetheless, not every situation will be resolved along those lines, and there are people being hurt out there because other people in the know remain silent. Obviously, as an atheist, it doesn't matter to me very much whether they stay quiet because of religious beliefs or for some other reason. They are still people being hurt, possibly for life.


EDIT--to tie it in with the murder thing, besides possibly letting a murderer remain on the loose, obviously not having closure regarding a murder can cause a lot of psychological trauma for a family.
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« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2007, 11:19:10 PM »

I think this topic reflects some measure of legalism and raises some really important questions. Namely what constitutes a confession, is it something said, seen, read or heard through a third party.

There are other many important considerations as well such as the harm that an individual could pose to themselves or others if appropriate notifications are not made. It would seem to me that the clergy's responsibility is not simply to the confessor but also the community at large and if they have the ability the avert some harm then they have the responsibility to do so with all due respect, compassion and love towards all individuals involved or at risk.

Rather than concealing such information perhaps clergy need to be able to educate the people that there are certain severe cases where they may need to inform appropriate authorities in order to be able to enlist thier help and support for the sake of the perpetrator and victim.
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« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2007, 11:42:25 PM »


Rather than concealing such information perhaps clergy need to be able to educate the people that there are certain severe cases where they may need to inform appropriate authorities in order to be able to enlist thier help and support for the sake of the perpetrator and victim.

What exactly is severe?  And who makes that judgement call? 

Anyway, if a person can't trust a priest, who can they trust?  Everyone else is obligated by law to report stuff (we assume..) that priests are not...

So when all else fails, you can always turn to Christ.  Sorry i'm not thinking clearly tonight, so forgive me for just stopping here...
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« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2007, 12:22:39 AM »

What exactly is severe?  And who makes that judgement call? 

Anyway, if a person can't trust a priest, who can they trust?  Everyone else is obligated by law to report stuff (we assume..) that priests are not...

So when all else fails, you can always turn to Christ.  Sorry i'm not thinking clearly tonight, so forgive me for just stopping here...
I think you echo what I'm thinking on this.  One of the things the Church mandates in order to encourage the confession of sins that is so central to repentance is that the penitent be encouraged to have faith that the contents of his confessions will not IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER be revealed to ANYONE by his confessor priest.  Without this safeguard, how will the penitent be able to confess his sins with the confidence that no one other than God and the priest will know?  Will the penitent be able to make a complete, saving confession before Christ and His ordained minister knowing that something he confesses may be revealed to someone else?  Speaking for myself, I would have to answer with a very firm "NO!"  I would not feel at all comfortable making a complete confession if I knew something I confessed would be turned against me like this.  The penitent must be able to make a complete, thorough confession of conscience without fear of civil penalty for doing so.

That's why it is so important that the confessor priest instruct the penitent to turn himself in to the civil authorities for crimes confessed.  If the priest makes the pronouncement of God's absolution conditionally dependent on the penitent making such restitution as part of his penance, then either the penitent turns himself in to the authorities, or else he does not receive God's forgiveness.  (If the penitent refuses to make restitution for his sins, then can not his "penitence" be dismissed as disingenuous, for he has thus shown himself as being not truly sorry for his sins?)
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« Reply #20 on: August 20, 2007, 12:56:16 AM »

I think what is severe would be at least what the law recognises as such and mandates many other professions to take action in. This would definitely be severe. This would also occur in the case of a perceived imminent danger to a person. Here a clergyman would also be expected to inform the appropriate authorities and any individuals that may be in danger.

With regards to the relationship between clergyman and confessor I don't think there would be the problem that is being expressed here. Oftentimes people may reveal these things in desperate search for someone who would have the ability to intervene and rectify a situation. Furthermore, to assume that such disclosure would be the ruin of the confessional seems to be somewhat exaggerated since professional counsellors themselves seem to function quite well in supporting their clients and yet being able to disclose information where necessary.

In addition to the above how does consideration to an existing or potential victim weigh in to the comments given?
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« Reply #21 on: August 20, 2007, 01:33:04 AM »

I think what is severe would be at least what the law recognises as such and mandates many other professions to take action in. This would definitely be severe. This would also occur in the case of a perceived imminent danger to a person. Here a clergyman would also be expected to inform the appropriate authorities and any individuals that may be in danger.
Something Fr. Chris mentioned indicates that, rather than disclose crimes confessed to him to the civil authorities (and thus violate the secrecy of the confessional), he may be allowed to accompany or drive the penitent to where he needs to go to turn himself in, just so long as in the end it is the penitent who reveals his crimes to the authorities.

Quote
With regards to the relationship between clergyman and confessor I don't think there would be the problem that is being expressed here. Oftentimes people may reveal these things in desperate search for someone who would have the ability to intervene and rectify a situation. Furthermore, to assume that such disclosure would be the ruin of the confessional seems to be somewhat exaggerated since professional counsellors themselves seem to function quite well in supporting their clients and yet being able to disclose information where necessary.

In addition to the above how does consideration to an existing or potential victim weigh in to the comments given?
We must remember, though, that even though one may receive counseling as part of Confession, Confession is fundamentally not a counseling session; rather, it is the place for one to confess his/her sins to our Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive His forgiveness and His grace to resist future temptations.
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« Reply #22 on: August 20, 2007, 10:02:38 AM »

Something Fr. Chris mentioned indicates that, rather than disclose crimes confessed to him to the civil authorities (and thus violate the secrecy of the confessional), he may be allowed to accompany or drive the penitent to where he needs to go to turn himself in, just so long as in the end it is the penitent who reveals his crimes to the authorities.

I think that even the most gifted priest would admit that he is extremely limited and restricted in terms of the resources he may have at his disposal be they time, knowledge, skill, effort, financial, legal, etc. There are qualified people within the community who are specialised and have studied and experienced these issues in detail and I really can't understand why you would not avail yourself of their help and support, especially in such critical circumstances - all just for some legalistic reasoning of secrecy - makes absolutely no sense.

We must remember, though, that even though one may receive counseling as part of Confession, Confession is fundamentally not a counseling session; rather, it is the place for one to confess his/her sins to our Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive His forgiveness and His grace to resist future temptations.

I think it's quite clear that no absolution is prayed over the client in counselling. However, I'm drawing a parallel between counselling and confession and the relationship of trust and confidentiality and how in counselling there can be appropriate disclosure in the case of a perceived imminent danger without the extreme consequences of damage to the profession that is being insinuated here. 

Let's put it real simple: Would you feel more compelled to protect the secrecy of the confessional or a vulnerable child that you feel may be in extreme danger? And if something did occur to the child due to your inability to disclose vital information how responsible would you feel?
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« Reply #23 on: August 20, 2007, 12:02:02 PM »

I think that even the most gifted priest would admit that he is extremely limited and restricted in terms of the resources he may have at his disposal be they time, knowledge, skill, effort, financial, legal, etc. There are qualified people within the community who are specialised and have studied and experienced these issues in detail and I really can't understand why you would not avail yourself of their help and support, especially in such critical circumstances - all just for some legalistic reasoning of secrecy - makes absolutely no sense.


Y'know, I guess it just astounds me that people have placed in their own minds that there can only be 2 possible outcomes for this situation:

1. The penitent criminal goes forthwith to the police station after being dismissed from the confession; or
2. The criminal, after leaving the confession session which is voluntary and indicative of the person's own desire to change things, instead will just go about his business unimpeded and without impacting his or her behavior.

Has it occurred to anyone that I also have children that may be endangered by an unimprisoned child molester, and so I may not dismiss the person until I am certain that he will go to the authorities, if not take him there myself while he is under my influence and direction?

Has it not occurred to anyone that it is quite possible that a priest has access to other counselors and social agencies to help this person?

Has it occurred to anyone that, if a child or spouse or other person were endangered, that I can contact the people and suggest they make arrangements to avoid someone without divulging the confession? No one asks or wonders why they should---they just know that there must be a valid reason to do so?

It just astounds me how inaccurate the picture is that is drawn by folks in this situation so let me be very clear:

I would not divulge the Confession.
I also would not let a criminal just wander off.
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« Reply #24 on: August 20, 2007, 04:49:32 PM »

Fr. Chris,

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Y'know, I guess it just astounds me that people have placed in their own minds that there can only be 2 possible outcomes for this situation

For my own part, I actually did think of other scenarios. One of them involved a psychologically sadistic person. Perhaps someone with a grudge against the church, or just someone who gets pleasure out of tormenting others, would "confess" to you what he had done, or planned to do, knowing that you would not tell anyone about it. Your pain would be their pleasure. An unlikely scenario, to be sure, but possible. Another scenario, an abusive husband rapes and beats his wife. He certainly isn't going to discuss it with friends of family, least of all the one being abused; but then he thinks he can talk about it with you, because you won't tell. He leaves, very repentant, very sure that he will make amends. And he's sincere too. Unfortunately, he gets blasted at the bar 3 weeks later, and is back at it. Except now he isn't going to come back and tell you. Again, unlikely, but not impossible. 

I don't think you are being realistic, Fr. Chris. I'm sure you've seen all types. I'm sure you've seen and thought about many more scenarios than I have. But IMO it only takes that one, rare person, to make your position unfortunate. Actually I think it's unfortunate even without a victim, but a victim would magnify things greatly. You don't have to let a criminal wander off, you may think he is sincerely going to do the right thing, and he might think so as well. But that doesn't mean it will happen.
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« Reply #25 on: August 20, 2007, 04:57:06 PM »

Fr. Chris,

For my own part, I actually did think of other scenarios. One of them involved a psychologically sadistic person. Perhaps someone with a grudge against the church, or just someone who gets pleasure out of tormenting others, would "confess" to you what he had done, or planned to do, knowing that you would not tell anyone about it. Your pain would be their pleasure. An unlikely scenario, to be sure, but possible. Another scenario, an abusive husband rapes and beats his wife. He certainly isn't going to discuss it with friends of family, least of all the one being abused; but then he thinks he can talk about it with you, because you won't tell. He leaves, very repentant, very sure that he will make amends. And he's sincere too. Unfortunately, he gets blasted at the bar 3 weeks later, and is back at it. Except now he isn't going to come back and tell you. Again, unlikely, but not impossible. 

I don't think you are being realistic, Fr. Chris. I'm sure you've seen all types. I'm sure you've seen and thought about many more scenarios than I have. But IMO it only takes that one, rare person, to make your position unfortunate. Actually I think it's unfortunate even without a victim, but a victim would magnify things greatly. You don't have to let a criminal wander off, you may think he is sincerely going to do the right thing, and he might think so as well. But that doesn't mean it will happen.

I guess I'm just at a loss as to how much more clear I can be about this---

If a person confesses a criminal act, then s/he is a criminal, and I would not just let him or her wander off. That takes care of every instance you cite where a person has done something criminal.

If a person states that they were thinking about abusing a person, then I still would not let them wander off---they would need to go to some counseling. I would drive them if they have troubles getting there.

How much more clear do I need to be?

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« Reply #26 on: August 20, 2007, 06:15:13 PM »

I guess I'm just at a loss as to how much more clear I can be about this---
Boy, so am I. Your first post, actually, was quite a helpful answer to this question, and echoes what I've heard from every other Orthodox priest who has tried to give an answer about this.

For my part, I'm not so concerned about those who have to confess a criminal act. I'm mostly concerned about my own sins--God knows there's enough of those to keep me busy.
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« Reply #27 on: August 20, 2007, 09:32:06 PM »

Y'know, I guess it just astounds me that people have placed in their own minds that there can only be 2 possible outcomes for this situation:

1. The penitent criminal goes forthwith to the police station after being dismissed from the confession; or
2. The criminal, after leaving the confession session which is voluntary and indicative of the person's own desire to change things, instead will just go about his business unimpeded and without impacting his or her behavior.

Has it occurred to anyone that I also have children that may be endangered by an unimprisoned child molester, and so I may not dismiss the person until I am certain that he will go to the authorities, if not take him there myself while he is under my influence and direction?

Has it not occurred to anyone that it is quite possible that a priest has access to other counselors and social agencies to help this person?

Has it occurred to anyone that, if a child or spouse or other person were endangered, that I can contact the people and suggest they make arrangements to avoid someone without divulging the confession? No one asks or wonders why they should---they just know that there must be a valid reason to do so?

It just astounds me how inaccurate the picture is that is drawn by folks in this situation so let me be very clear:

I would not divulge the Confession.
I also would not let a criminal just wander off.


Dear Fr. Chris,

I am sure that a clergyman like yourself would take every single precaution to protect people that may be vulnerable or in some form of danger. However, ultimately father, you cannot force a person to do anything and ultimately you have absolutely no power to intervene, where it may be required, but only to guide and counsel. Therefore, what if a person refused services or was not serious about them or required further more extreme intervention.

In short father what if it actually took disclosure to protect the individual, and I'm sure there are situations where this very well may be the case. Would you protect the confession or the individual if you had to choose between one and the other?
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« Reply #28 on: August 21, 2007, 12:00:56 AM »

Would it be SO outside the realm of possibility to call into a police station as an ANONYMOUS person and be like "i have a high suspicion that this and this person may be in danger." never revealing the PENITANT, but rather, helping the person in danger? 

Would this be possible?  You are not revealing the confession, nor the confessor.  Rather you are pointing out the danger, as any person would do.  What the law enforcement does with that is their business, and no longer your responsability (perhaps)...? 

Would this work?  Just curious...if you don't want to answer I understand...
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« Reply #29 on: August 21, 2007, 12:07:27 AM »

Would it be SO outside the realm of possibility to call into a police station as an ANONYMOUS person and be like "i have a high suspicion that this and this person may be in danger." never revealing the PENITANT, but rather, helping the person in danger? 

Would this be possible?  You are not revealing the confession, nor the confessor.  Rather you are pointing out the danger, as any person would do.  What the law enforcement does with that is their business, and no longer your responsability (perhaps)...? 

Would this work?  Just curious...if you don't want to answer I understand...

I think Fr. Chris alluded to this possibility.

Has it occurred to anyone that, if a child or spouse or other person were endangered, that I can contact the people and suggest they make arrangements to avoid someone without divulging the confession? No one asks or wonders why they should---they just know that there must be a valid reason to do so?
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« Reply #30 on: August 21, 2007, 12:16:34 AM »

the only reason that I asked is because I've tried to warn the police about certain things and it took them 3 weeks just to give me a call back, much less do anything about the problem. 

So that's why I added the part about "if they do anything about it" because sometimes things are just outside of your hands...

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« Reply #31 on: August 21, 2007, 01:02:06 AM »

IMHO  If a man or woman is going to confession to reveal a criminal act, then it seems certain that this person actually has a conscience and wants to repent  The criminals to really worry about are the ones that don't care about their behavior and in fact relish in it. Therefore they would see no need to seek out confession.

Juliana
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« Reply #32 on: August 21, 2007, 02:36:22 AM »

IMHO  If a man or woman is going to confession to reveal a criminal act, then it seems certain that this person actually has a conscience and wants to repent  The criminals to really worry about are the ones that don't care about their behavior and in fact relish in it. Therefore they would see no need to seek out confession.

Juliana

While this probably has some truth to it, I think it is a bit "rose-colored glasses"-like.
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« Reply #33 on: August 21, 2007, 09:46:47 AM »

Dear Fr. Chris,

I am sure that a clergyman like yourself would take every single precaution to protect people that may be vulnerable or in some form of danger. However, ultimately father, you cannot force a person to do anything and ultimately you have absolutely no power to intervene, where it may be required, but only to guide and counsel. Therefore, what if a person refused services or was not serious about them or required further more extreme intervention.

In short father what if it actually took disclosure to protect the individual, and I'm sure there are situations where this very well may be the case. Would you protect the confession or the individual if you had to choose between one and the other?

Again, I think there are other alternatives than are being proposed by the observers here.

I do have power to intervene. If a person is indicating that they are a danger to himself, I do not leave him alone. I can call members of my parish or other priests to rotate shifts and be with that person. I do not have to divulge anything, but I can arrange things to be certain that the person is not unattended.

If the person is indicating that another is endangered, I also can call others to help escort those who are endangered away to an undisclosed and secure place. Again, I do not have to divulge one thing; I only need to state who I am (I have networked with local police departemnst and social agencies so they know who I am) and state that, as a priest, I have reason to believe that 'this person who is with me' is a danger to himself, or that I have reason to believe that 'this family at this address' is endangered.

Again, and one more time, I do not know how much more clear I can be about this:

1. I will not divulge the confession.
2. I also will not allow a criminal to just wander off.

Do I need to repeat myself a fourth time?

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« Reply #34 on: August 21, 2007, 10:11:13 AM »

All this discussion seems to miss heretofore (and forgive me if I did miss it somewhere, probably did), is that Confession is more than just seeking absolution but must be accompanied by a true motivation of repentance - repentance in the Greek sense of "changing one's mind, heart, and refraining for further sinful behavior". I cannot see someone motivated to 'confess' and NOT be motivated otherwise or in any less manner.
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« Reply #35 on: August 21, 2007, 10:16:56 AM »

I cannot see someone motivated to 'confess' and NOT be motivated otherwise.

Exactly! I have discussed this in my past pasts, but being the Rodney Dangerfield of OC.net, people blithely skim over what I write to insert their own interpretations into the text.

Why would a person who has committed a crime, or about to commit a crime, call in Fr Chris for a confession other than because they are being prompted by the Spirit to through metanoia?

If an insane person is attempting to 'brag' about what they have done or are planning, then the 'back up plan'--i.e., not leaving them alone and calling on other's assistance---then is implemented. Either way, the situation resolves itself under the two conditions that I have discussed multiple times in this thread.
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« Reply #36 on: August 22, 2007, 12:48:14 AM »

So... assuming what Fr. Chris said is accurate in most Orthodox / Roman Catholic parishes, the rate in which the situation is handled properly and nobody is put in further danger is very high (perhaps greater than 99% of the time).  So barring situations that only seem to occur in Dostoevsky novels - a sadist confessing something purely for amusement - the seal of confession can hardly be called a shield protecting criminals.  In fact that rate of resolving situations is far better than government agencies entrusted with similar tasks (i.e often child abuse gets reported and nothing happens, police respond to domestic violence calls and then the victim refuses to press charges etc.).  Your attempt at being a rationalist here has failed and you it seems more that you more interested in blaming an ancient religious ritual simply because it is religious. 
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« Reply #37 on: August 22, 2007, 12:55:59 AM »

So... assuming what Fr. Chris said is accurate in most Orthodox / Roman Catholic parishes, the rate in which the situation is handled properly and nobody is put in further danger is very high (perhaps greater than 99% of the time).  So barring situations that only seem to occur in Dostoevsky novels - a sadist confessing something purely for amusement - the seal of confession can hardly be called a shield protecting criminals.  In fact that rate of resolving situations is far better than government agencies entrusted with similar tasks (i.e often child abuse gets reported and nothing happens, police respond to domestic violence calls and then the victim refuses to press charges etc.).  Your attempt at being a rationalist here has failed and you it seems more that you more interested in blaming an ancient religious ritual simply because it is religious. 
I think I know whom you're addressing, but could you please address this person by name or quote a post from this person?  I think doing so would help clarify the context of your statements for the sake of further discussion.
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« Reply #38 on: August 22, 2007, 05:13:03 AM »

Again, I think there are other alternatives than are being proposed by the observers here.

I do have power to intervene. If a person is indicating that they are a danger to himself, I do not leave him alone. I can call members of my parish or other priests to rotate shifts and be with that person. I do not have to divulge anything, but I can arrange things to be certain that the person is not unattended.

If the person is indicating that another is endangered, I also can call others to help escort those who are endangered away to an undisclosed and secure place. Again, I do not have to divulge one thing; I only need to state who I am (I have networked with local police departemnst and social agencies so they know who I am) and state that, as a priest, I have reason to believe that 'this person who is with me' is a danger to himself, or that I have reason to believe that 'this family at this address' is endangered.

Again, and one more time, I do not know how much more clear I can be about this:

1. I will not divulge the confession.
2. I also will not allow a criminal to just wander off.

Do I need to repeat myself a fourth time?



Dear Fr Chris,

I am glad to see that you would notify and enlist the help and support of the appropriate authorities and services in the community if you perceived that someone posed a danger or threat to others. However, not to labour a point father, but isn't this in itself a form of veiled disclosure?

I don't mean to attack you father nor the sanctity of the sacrament but throughout this entire thread have we been working with some assumptions without foundation? It seems to have been established that unless privacy of the confessional is protected in absolute terms the whole sacrament would be brought to ruins and this certainly seems to be a common notion among the faithful. However, I believe that this not necessarily need be the case. Furthermore, is there any patristic support for such an absolute and rigid notion for the protection of the secrecy of the sacrament? It would seem to me, from the Christian standpoint, that it would be most important to weigh the risks involved and hence act accordingly in the best interests of all parties involved and not be governed by some rigid rule of secrecy.
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« Reply #39 on: August 22, 2007, 07:19:16 AM »

Dear Fr Chris,

I am glad to see that you would notify and enlist the help and support of the appropriate authorities and services in the community if you perceived that someone posed a danger or threat to others. However, not to labour a point father, but isn't this in itself a form of veiled disclosure?

I don't mean to attack you father nor the sanctity of the sacrament but throughout this entire thread have we been working with some assumptions without foundation? It seems to have been established that unless privacy of the confessional is protected in absolute terms the whole sacrament would be brought to ruins and this certainly seems to be a common notion among the faithful. However, I believe that this not necessarily need be the case. Furthermore, is there any patristic support for such an absolute and rigid notion for the protection of the secrecy of the sacrament? It would seem to me, from the Christian standpoint, that it would be most important to weigh the risks involved and hence act accordingly in the best interests of all parties involved and not be governed by some rigid rule of secrecy.

falafel333 I ask that you take no offense as you have asked of father Chris but let me rudely but in and say that the question at the beginning of the thread was that a under the law a Roman Catholic priest does not have to give a testimony or evidence in a court of law or to the police about anything that was spoken about in confession and a conversation was started to understand if spiritually and legally is an Orthodox priest permitted this privilege. Now through the course of this thread we have discovered that an Orthodox priest under the law is required to divulge what was spoken about in confession. Father Chris dropped in to explain that he would not divulge what was spoken about in confession but if he needed to contact the authorities because he believe someone is a danger to themselves or others he would do so and I think the implication was that he has had to do this before or has prepared for it and that the local police would understand the nature of Father Chris being brief in his explanation or not having sufficient evidence for the police to take a request like this seriously but again because of his position the police take it seriously and act accordingly so to answer your question falafel333 is that Father Chris wouldn't have to actually divulge anything spoken about in confession. 
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« Reply #40 on: August 22, 2007, 07:57:15 AM »

falafel333 I ask that you take no offense as you have asked of father Chris but let me rudely but in and say that the question at the beginning of the thread was that a under the law a Roman Catholic priest does not have to give a testimony or evidence in a court of law or to the police about anything that was spoken about in confession and a conversation

I think there are a few states that have "mandatory reporting" laws for child molesters that specifically include all clergy as mandatory reporters - so some of the states have actually said that confession cannot be a shield in those specific cases. So, if a child reports being molested or an adult reports being a molester, the law in those few states indicates that even a priest giving confession must report this to the police or children's services (RC, EO, or otherwise).

Otherwise, Orthodox priests are covered under the same umbrella of law that protects RC priests from being compelled to divulge confessional material.

However, as FrChris has indicated, this does not mean that the priest in question will not work to see justice done; far from it, Father has described a process to handle those who confess criminal activity that is designed not only for the salvation and protection of the person in the confession, but also for the protection of the Community that the priest is responsible for shepherding.
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« Reply #41 on: August 22, 2007, 10:15:15 AM »

I'm aware that in the Coptic Orthodox Church priests have been imprisoned for refusing to state in court whether or not a person even has confession yet alone what they might have said.

That being said, as is stated so well by many above, the Church handles delicate cases better than the State for she does so with the love of Christ. [E.g. I am aware that battered wives are given safe-houses with their children until their husbands change (which may be with assistance from the Church) or (unfortunately) decide to leave their wives through the only means which the Church allows for a divorce to be granted, in which case the wife is then free to marry.]
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« Reply #42 on: August 22, 2007, 12:59:30 PM »

However, not to labour a point father, but isn't this in itself a form of veiled disclosure?

Not at all. In the examples I used, please indicate where I disclose the specific sin confessed. And while I have not had to do any of those actions, other priests in this parish have had to do so.

I don't mean to attack you father nor the sanctity of the sacrament but throughout this entire thread have we been working with some assumptions without foundation? It seems to have been established that unless privacy of the confessional is protected in absolute terms the whole sacrament would be brought to ruins and this certainly seems to be a common notion among the faithful. However, I believe that this not necessarily need be the case. Furthermore, is there any patristic support for such an absolute and rigid notion for the protection of the secrecy of the sacrament? It would seem to me, from the Christian standpoint, that it would be most important to weigh the risks involved and hence act accordingly in the best interests of all parties involved and not be governed by some rigid rule of secrecy.

We agree! That's why the procedure outlined to you is what we do.

So, for the fourth time, I repeat what I said:

1. I will not divulge the confession.
2. I also will not allow a criminal to wander off.

Now, Cleveland brought up a good point:

Quote
I think there are a few states that have "mandatory reporting" laws for child molesters that specifically include all clergy as mandatory reporters - so some of the states have actually said that confession cannot be a shield in those specific cases. So, if a child reports being molested or an adult reports being a molester, the law in those few states indicates that even a priest giving confession must report this to the police or children's services (RC, EO, or otherwise).

The procedures outlined multiple times now are ones that bring the person to the attention of the authorities and protective agencies without divulging the confession.

And, I have to go now, as the person who's scheduled a confession with me today (the second such appointment today) has shown up ealrier than expected because the person is truly repentant and wants to be reconciled to the Body of Christ. This is not unusual for confessions, which is why I will again state:

A person who is confessing a criminal act is already more-than-halfway along to confessing to the authorities---it is up to the priest to love them enough to get them to that extra step.

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« Reply #43 on: May 04, 2009, 10:24:39 PM »


The sacrament of confession is open to all baptized and chrismated orthodox christians.  Maybe they should avail themselves of this fact, instead of just venting online and etc. 

Interesting thought..... if a Christian reveals in Confession an illegal act by another (theft, murder, bigamy, tax fraud, sexual abuse, whatever) and tells the priest that he is free to reveal this information publically, does the priest have a moral obligation to report to the appropriate civil or eclesiastical authority what he has been given permssion to reveal?
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« Reply #44 on: May 05, 2009, 04:00:53 PM »


The sacrament of confession is open to all baptized and chrismated orthodox christians.  Maybe they should avail themselves of this fact, instead of just venting online and etc. 

Interesting thought..... if a Christian reveals in Confession an illegal act by another (theft, murder, bigamy, tax fraud, sexual abuse, whatever) and tells the priest that he is free to reveal this information publically, does the priest have a moral obligation to report to the appropriate civil or eclesiastical authority what he has been given permssion to reveal?

I would say that what is in said in confession is sealed by that sacrament.  If the person has TOLD the priest that it's a publicly known fact, then that same person should just tell the police.  If it's public, then there isn't even a problem of "selling the person out" because it is public anyway.  I believe the question was (in this topic) if the case is private and etc. 

Also, that comment was from another thread where I was saying that people should go to confession instead of venting online.  If they have gone to confession about what has happened to them or what they have done, then it is between them and their spiritual fathers.  Now if their spiritual fathers have TOLD them to go and say something publicly, those people could be called to account for their spiritual directions (by their bishop, who at this point is an auxiliary bishop with no more authority to do such things).  It's a catch 22 at this point. 
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