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Author Topic: Seal of the confessional  (Read 4206 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: May 05, 2008, 10:51:08 AM »

I was reading the latest news of a new scandal rocking the OCA over at everyone's favorite OCA watchdog site and was struck by this comment attributed to special investigator Fr. Alexey Karlgut:

Quote
Additionally, he wrote, “As to allegations of violation of ‘pastoral confidentiality’ it should be stated that in the teaching, Doctrine, and Canonical rules, regulations, and tribunal for internal discipline and government of the Orthodox Church no such concept exists.”

I know it's very spelled out in black and white in Catholicism that the seal of the confessional is absolute:

Quote from: Code of Canon Law 983 §1
The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and to see any reason.

Any violation incurs an immediate and automatic excommunication that can only be lifted by the Pope.

This particular section has its roots in the Decretum of Gratian and in the Fourth Lateran Council, the former being a compilation of prior canons.  Both sources are, of course, post-schism. 

Setting aside the possibility that Fr. Alexey is trying to say that the things Fr. Velencia revealed to others about Mrs. Koumentakas were not told to Fr. Velencia during sacramental confession, are there Orthodox canons governing the seal of the confessional as this Catholic understands it?  Unfortunately, the Decretum Gratiani isn't online in English and I don't even know if Gratian cited the previous councils he drew from for his compilation.

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« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2008, 10:58:39 AM »

I don't know if its in a session of a council, but St. Nikodemos the Hagorite and the Pedalion both state that a Priest is to be severely punished for breaking the confidence; the latter even says he is to be deposed.
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« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2008, 11:01:43 AM »

This was an opinion of Paul Meyendorff at SVS when I was there. The last time I heard Meyendorff say it publicly, Fr Paul Lazor disagreed with him strongly. The idea that there is no "seal of confession" in Orthodoxy is odd.
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« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2008, 11:05:29 AM »

This was an opinion of Paul Meyendorff at SVS when I was there. The last time I heard Meyendorff say it publicly, Fr Paul Lazor disagreed with him strongly. The idea that there is no "seal of confession" in Orthodoxy is odd.

This is one of my objections to the way that HC and SVS are set-up: the professors are independent contractors, which can be good in some cases (getting different perspectives), and bad in others (when those perspectives are borderline or fully heretical).
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« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2008, 11:31:52 AM »

This is one of my objections to the way that HC and SVS are set-up: the professors are independent contractors, which can be good in some cases (getting different perspectives), and bad in others (when those perspectives are borderline or fully heretical).

That is something I thought about too.
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« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2008, 11:55:52 AM »

That is something I thought about too. 

I used to go over it in my head in Dogmatics class - my Metropolitan was a world-class Dogm. professor, and the professor I had in school wasn't up to that caliber, and used some questionable material.
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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2008, 07:05:46 PM »

This was an opinion of Paul Meyendorff at SVS when I was there. The last time I heard Meyendorff say it publicly, Fr Paul Lazor disagreed with him strongly. The idea that there is no "seal of confession" in Orthodoxy is odd.

I'm confused because you didn't quote.  Exactly what was the opinion of Meyendorff???
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« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2008, 07:22:12 PM »

I'm confused because you didn't quote.  Exactly what was the opinion of Meyendorff???


Paul Meyendorff: There is no seal of confession. That is a Latin idea.
Fr Paul Lazor: No, I don't agree. You will be deposed if you reveal a confession.

That was during a student meeting one time in 2004 when we discussed sexual abuse and how to deal with it.
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« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2008, 07:46:12 PM »

Paul Meyendorff: There is no seal of confession. That is a Latin idea.
Fr Paul Lazor: No, I don't agree. You will be deposed if you reveal a confession.

That was during a student meeting one time in 2004 when we discussed sexual abuse and how to deal with it.

 Shocked

Did Meyendorff mean that it's perfectly acceptable to divulge the contents of someone's confession without penalty?  Or did he just object to the idea of a "Seal of Confession" with boundaries and penalties defined in canons?
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« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2008, 07:50:23 PM »

Shocked

Did Meyendorff mean that it's perfectly acceptable to divulge the contents of someone's confession without penalty?  Or did he just object to the idea of a "Seal of Confession" with boundaries and penalties defined in canons?

The context was that it would be perfectly fine for an Orthodox priest to turn in his confessing penitent who was guilty of child sexual abuse. I think that is ludicrous. I think that as a penance the priest should instruct the penitent to turn himself in and even drive him to the police station, but a priest can NOT divulge confessional secrets!
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« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2008, 07:58:24 PM »

The context was that it would be perfectly fine for an Orthodox priest to turn in his confessing penitent who was guilty of child sexual abuse. I think that is ludicrous. I think that as a penance the priest should instruct the penitent to turn himself in and even drive him to the police station, but a priest can NOT divulge confessional secrets!

I agree that it's ludicrous.  Otherwise, what's the point of offering private confession in place of everyone naming their sins in public?
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« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2008, 08:14:04 PM »

There should be serious penalties if a priest reveals someone's confession. A person should trust their spiritual father to confess everything, even if it is the most unspeakable crime; it is only between the penitent, the priest, and God.
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« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2008, 08:32:25 PM »

There should be serious penalties if a priest reveals someone's confession. A person should trust their spiritual father to confess everything, even if it is the most unspeakable crime; it is only between the penitent, the priest, and God.

Indeed, that's exactly what the OCA's guidelines for clergy state:  http://aggreen.net/guidelines/guide03.html  (scroll down to bottom)
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« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2008, 10:09:42 PM »

There should be serious penalties if a priest reveals someone's confession. A person should trust their spiritual father to confess everything, even if it is the most unspeakable crime; it is only between the penitent, the priest, and God.
And to reassure you that our priests still follow this rule of absolute confessional secrecy, I refer you to Fr. Chris's replies on this thread:  Sacrosanctity of Orthodox confessions and confessors.
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« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2008, 07:30:22 AM »

Paul Meyendorff: There is no seal of confession. That is a Latin idea.
Fr Paul Lazor: No, I don't agree. You will be deposed if you reveal a confession.

That was during a student meeting one time in 2004 when we discussed sexual abuse and how to deal with it.

thanks!
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« Reply #15 on: May 06, 2008, 03:46:07 PM »

And to reassure you that our priests still follow this rule of absolute confessional secrecy, I refer you to Fr. Chris's replies on this thread:  Sacrosanctity of Orthodox confessions and confessors.

Ok, thank you for directing me to Fr. Chris's posts. Good information.
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« Reply #16 on: May 06, 2008, 04:39:59 PM »

Nikodimus the Hagiorite and others who are influnced by the Latin understanding of canon law are flat out wrong when it comes to the "seal of confession". This is an alien concept to the Church and changes the role of the priest to just the meditor and witness rather then the spiritual father.

While there is no seal it is a rare situation to divulge what is said in confession. There are times where a priest may seek the council of an older priest or his Bishop based on what is said to him in confession. I would also agree with what was said earlier on here about the Priest driving the criminal to turn himelf in, but there are those cases where the person is not strong enough to turn himself in and it then becomes the priest responcibility.

With all that said, one should be aware of the state laws in America. Some states grant a seal to confession to clergy and others don't. Going back to sexual abuse of a minor, in some states it is a criminal act if the priest does not disclose confession of sexual abuse to a minor. In other states if clergy turn someone in based on informatin aquired in a confession setting the authorities can not act on that information.
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« Reply #17 on: May 06, 2008, 04:54:48 PM »

Nikodimus the Hagiorite and others who are influnced by the Latin understanding of canon law are flat out wrong when it comes to the "seal of confession". This is an alien concept to the Church and changes the role of the priest to just the meditor and witness rather then the spiritual father.

This is the first time I've ever heard of the Pedalion being influenced by a "Latin understanding".

Quote
While there is no seal it is a rare situation to divulge what is said in confession. There are times where a priest may seek the council of an older priest or his Bishop based on what is said to him in confession. I would also agree with what was said earlier on here about the Priest driving the criminal to turn himelf in, but there are those cases where the person is not strong enough to turn himself in and it then becomes the priest responcibility.

I think there is a difference between saying, "Vladyka, one of my children is suffering from [insert spiritual sickness].  I'm out of ideas.  Can you help me help him?" while keeping names/specific situations/etc out of it and what can easily be seen as malicious gossip (even if the intention is to not gossip).  Conversations like the former are allowable (I think) under the Catholic concept of the seal. 

I think a priest literally turning a penitent in would be detrimental to not only that priest's other flock, but to the priesthood in general, no matter what crime the penitent committed. 
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« Reply #18 on: May 06, 2008, 05:06:52 PM »

Bear in mind that St. Nikodimos himself was dismayed at the Latin editing (under papal influence) of the Pedalion as published in Venice.
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« Reply #19 on: May 06, 2008, 05:16:59 PM »

Nikodimus the Hagiorite and others who are influnced by the Latin understanding of canon law are flat out wrong when it comes to the "seal of confession". This is an alien concept to the Church and changes the role of the priest to just the meditor and witness rather then the spiritual father.

While there is no seal it is a rare situation to divulge what is said in confession. There are times where a priest may seek the council of an older priest or his Bishop based on what is said to him in confession. I would also agree with what was said earlier on here about the Priest driving the criminal to turn himelf in, but there are those cases where the person is not strong enough to turn himself in and it then becomes the priest responcibility.

With all that said, one should be aware of the state laws in America. Some states grant a seal to confession to clergy and others don't. Going back to sexual abuse of a minor, in some states it is a criminal act if the priest does not disclose confession of sexual abuse to a minor. In other states if clergy turn someone in based on informatin aquired in a confession setting the authorities can not act on that information.

Here's an article if anyone is so inclined: http://www.churchlawtoday.com/private/library/pcl/p03g.htm It talks about the Supreme Court's view of the relationship between confessor - penitent
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« Reply #20 on: May 06, 2008, 05:53:29 PM »

Perhaps it would help to clarify the terms. What do we mean by seal of confession? If we mean confessional secrecy, I don't see how this could ever be breached.  If, however, we mean the Latin understanding that all info gleaned from a confession can never be used by the priest (the famous poison in the chalice example) that idea is foreign to our Church.

If we are going to say St Nikodemos is Latin-influenced could we see the canons that he was interpreting as translated by someone else?

As far as the edits and him not being happy about it, that is curious to me. While I would not put it past the Ventians of that time to edit books, why is it that all the virulently anti-Latin passages are left in place but some passage about seal of confession is left in? This seems like too easy of an answer to be the full picture.
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« Reply #21 on: May 06, 2008, 06:19:44 PM »

Just an example of a more real world applications of why a spiritual father may be called to reveal what is said in confession. In Spiritual Court the accused's spiritual father may be call in to bear testimony since he should know the condition of accused's soul. It is also the spiritual fathers duty to tell the Bishop of any canonical impediments that may be found in his questioning of the candidate if the candidate refuses to do so himself.

I will repeat again because this can not be stressed enough, it must be a serious reason and must be done to stop further sin from happening in order to reveal what is said in confession but it can be done.

With all that said, the case that brought this up in Maryland, I do not think that priest actions were justified in this case. Confession requires great pastoral discernment and this priest failed miserably and his bishop should take action against him. I usually don't make comments like this on this board but I wanted to be clear that while I am saying confession is not sealed it does not mean that a spiritual father should go around telling everyone about everyone else's confession.
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« Reply #22 on: May 06, 2008, 06:39:49 PM »

If we are going to say St Nikodemos is Latin-influenced could we see the canons that he was interpreting as translated by someone else?

St. Nikodemos studies into western spirituality had an influence on him and do remember that the English translation we are dealing with were done by Episcopalians who aren't big fans of the Latins either. St. Nikodemos' commentaries are very legalistic when compared to other commentaries and often fly in the face of the classic commentary of Nikon of the Black Mountain or even St. Basil the Great's counsels.
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« Reply #23 on: May 07, 2008, 02:46:25 AM »

All of these events occurred days before the impending Consecration on the 10th.  The church website is no longer working. 

In the MD case, the priest's bishop is also his co-defendant.

Confessions aren't popular because intimate secrets could be revealed by the priest for whatever ulterior motives that the priest may develop down the road.  I've been to confession only once and I was even refused confession by another priest due to "economia" that telling him what happened to me was adequate enough.  One has to rely on the "gut feeling" when dealing with a priest because (and I've already quoted the passage on false prophets) their actions speak louder than their words....
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« Reply #24 on: May 07, 2008, 06:54:27 AM »

All of these events occurred days before the impending Consecration on the 10th.  The church website is no longer working. 

In the MD case, the priest's bishop is also his co-defendant. 

For anyone wondering, SolEX01 is referring to the $6million case against a priest and the OCA that was brought up in another thread:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,15872.0.html
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« Reply #25 on: August 17, 2008, 04:52:31 AM »

Quote
The context was that it would be perfectly fine for an Orthodox priest to turn in his confessing penitent who was guilty of child sexual abuse. I think that is ludicrous. I think that as a penance the priest should instruct the penitent to turn himself in and even drive him to the police station, but a priest can NOT divulge confessional secrets!

Fr. Anastasios, what if the confessing priest were to postpone the penance because of one excuse or another, and continues to abuse kids? What then?
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« Reply #26 on: August 17, 2008, 06:00:16 AM »

I agree with Fr. Anastasios that a priest must never reveal confessions. However, if a man comes in and says, "I'm going to go and kill my wife tonight," it is the duty of the priest to protect those who may be harmed.
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« Reply #27 on: August 17, 2008, 09:09:55 AM »

I agree with Fr. Anastasios that a priest must never reveal confessions. However, if a man comes in and says, "I'm going to go and kill my wife tonight," it is the duty of the priest to protect those who may be harmed.
In which case the man would not be confessing anything, as he had not committed the sin and had no intention of repenting of the thought of it. The priest would not be bound by silence in such a case; indeed, he would actually have the responsibility to alert the authorities or persuade the man to do so.
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