Author Topic: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity  (Read 2407 times)

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Offline Chacci

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Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« on: June 16, 2010, 04:53:35 PM »
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A question came up when a friend and I were discussing confession.

Generally, the question is: must the Father confessor keep confidential what he hears during a confession?  For example, if a person confesses that he committed a murder, is the Father Confessor obligated to call the police or is there some canonical restriction keeping him from doing so?  Can the Father Confessor speak to others about a specific sin that has been confessed?  For example, to the Bishop, to other Priests, or in general terms to others in the Church? 

I know in the Roman Catholic Church there is high regard for the confessional confidentiality and whatever is said in the confessional remains in the confessional.  I had always presumed that it was the same in Orthodoxy. 

Offline rakovsky

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2010, 06:59:18 PM »
I think there SHOULD be secrecy. I am warning you that you should not rely on it in the Orthodox or Catholic Churches. One priest will respect confidentiality and another will not. That is why it is best to have a spiritual father who keeps trust.

Offline Fr. George

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2010, 08:19:41 PM »
Chacci,

We are spiritually bound to generally not discuss your confession.  In some places, the law requires reporting if one confesses to harming a minor (or planning on harming a minor, in some cases); in other places, a confession of potential imminent harm would also require reporting.  This does not mean that a priest will divulge this information (I don't exactly poll how many "conscientious objectors" there are to mandatory reporting laws).  If something said to him in confession weighs upon his soul, a priest may say something to his father confessor without the names/identities attached, for guidance and assistance with the situation.

Usually, in cases where a very serious crime is confessed, the priest includes "turning yourself in" as part of the penance, rather than divulging the information to the authorities himself.

Of course, I also will re-affirm what rakovsky said: it is best to confess to a priest/hierarch/monk that you trust.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2010, 08:20:18 PM by Fr. George »
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Offline rakovsky

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2010, 08:32:08 PM »
Thank you, Fr. George.

It is worth keeping in mind too that priests can make a mistake and be swayed by popular ideas of what to do. For example, in one place that might say turn yourself in for helping freed slaves or helping the Palestinian resistance, and in another place a different one might not say anything. This makes things hard.

For example, one time I made a mistake and asked the priest what to do and he said you know what to do. Another time another priest told me God understands. Lord have mercy. Priest confession situation is very special.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2010, 08:38:37 PM by rakovsky »

Offline Schultz

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2010, 08:36:43 PM »


As for the OP, we discussed this a couple years ago at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,15833.0.html , where it was revealed that while most Orthodox theologians agree with the RCC idea of the inviolable seal, some prominent ones do not believe in such an idea.

« Last Edit: June 16, 2010, 08:37:36 PM by Schultz »
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Offline rakovsky

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2010, 08:40:58 PM »


As for the OP, we discussed this a couple years ago at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,15833.0.html , where it was revealed that while most Orthodox theologians agree with the RCC idea of the inviolable seal, some prominent ones do not believe in such an idea.



This is very bad and very dangerous. What about the times under Stalin when people were scared to make confession. The seal must be inviolable. You are talking to God. You are asking God for absolution. This is not supposed to be any situation where a microphone is hooked up to the executioner's ear. If God is real he is not happy with priests intentionally causing executions.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2010, 08:41:13 PM by rakovsky »

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2010, 08:43:18 PM »


As for the OP, we discussed this a couple years ago at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,15833.0.html , where it was revealed that while most Orthodox theologians agree with the RCC idea of the inviolable seal, some prominent ones do not believe in such an idea.



This is very bad and very dangerous. What about the times under Stalin when people were scared to make confession. The seal must be inviolable. You are talking to God. You are asking God for absolution. This is not supposed to be any situation where a microphone is hooked up to the executioner's ear. If God is real he is not happy with priests intentionally causing executions.

I agree.  I've always found it telling that even with all the things that the most liberal, modernist and the most conservative, traditional RC priests disagree upon, the inviolability of the seal of the confessional is the one thing they both agree upon. 
"Hearing a nun's confession is like being stoned to death with popcorn." --Abp. Fulton Sheen

Offline rakovsky

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2010, 08:54:40 PM »
Thank you. Is there a papal statement or anything saying exactly that very very personal things you say to a priest even outside a confession box but still in a very private setting are sacrosanct?

Offline Tallitot

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2010, 08:59:17 PM »
Conversations with clergy are considered "privilaged", at least under US law (don't know about other countries). Clergy can't be compelled to testify what someone who went to them for spiritual counsel divulged. of course if a clergy person is walking down the street and happens to witness you mugging someone, then they can be  subpoenad to testify as to what they saw.
Also privileged are conversations with your attorney and healthcare practitioners  within the practice of thier duties, and spouses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privileged_communication
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Offline Tallitot

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2010, 09:08:00 PM »
I know healthcare practitioners can be sued for revealing confidential info. I wonder if a clergy person could be also?
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Offline Fr. George

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #10 on: June 16, 2010, 09:38:13 PM »
Conversations with clergy are considered "privilaged", at least under US law (don't know about other countries). Clergy can't be compelled to testify what someone who went to them for spiritual counsel divulged. of course if a clergy person is walking down the street and happens to witness you mugging someone, then they can be  subpoenad to testify as to what they saw.
Also privileged are conversations with your attorney and healthcare practitioners  within the practice of thier duties, and spouses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privileged_communication

I think this definition is no longer accurate, as many states have made clergymen mandatory reporters in the cases of child abuse (i.e. if the child says they've been abused, or if the perpetrator says they have committed abuse).  I'd be interested in hearing if this does not apply during confession, but as it has been stated to me it does.
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Offline Fr. George

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #11 on: June 16, 2010, 09:39:07 PM »
I know healthcare practitioners can be sued for revealing confidential info. I wonder if a clergy person could be also?

Likely yes.  Especially considering the emotional attachment to information divulged during confession or within the context of the pastoral relationship, lawsuits are a definite possibility.
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Offline Melodist

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2010, 10:15:26 PM »
http://www.saintinnocent.org/confession_guidelines.html
Quote
The secrecy of the Mystery of Penance is considered an unquestionable rule in the entire Orthodox Church. Theologically, the need to maintain the secrecy of confession comes from the fact that the priest is only a witness before God. One could not expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest. 

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, even under strong constraining influence. The author of the Pedalion (the Rudder), states that a priest who betrays the secrecy of confession is to be deposed. The Metropolitan of Kos, Emanuel, mentions in his handbook (Exomologeteke) for confessors that the secrecy of confession is a principle without exception.
And FWIW, these are our Fathers too, you know.

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2010, 03:56:18 AM »


As for the OP, we discussed this a couple years ago at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,15833.0.html , where it was revealed that while most Orthodox theologians agree with the RCC idea of the inviolable seal, some prominent ones do not believe in such an idea.


Another thread where we've discussed this:  Sacrosanctity of Orthodox confessions and confessors
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Offline Chacci

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2010, 09:34:30 AM »
Thanks everyone for your replies.  They were very helpful.  I thank God everyday I'm not in the position of a confessor and that there are many worthy people who are!

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #15 on: June 17, 2010, 10:32:07 AM »
Conversations with clergy are considered "privilaged", at least under US law (don't know about other countries). Clergy can't be compelled to testify what someone who went to them for spiritual counsel divulged. of course if a clergy person is walking down the street and happens to witness you mugging someone, then they can be  subpoenad to testify as to what they saw.
Also privileged are conversations with your attorney and healthcare practitioners  within the practice of thier duties, and spouses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privileged_communication

I think this definition is no longer accurate, as many states have made clergymen mandatory reporters in the cases of child abuse (i.e. if the child says they've been abused, or if the perpetrator says they have committed abuse).  I'd be interested in hearing if this does not apply during confession, but as it has been stated to me it does.

Father is correct, it varies from state to state and applies to healthcare providers as well. Many states do have laws which ensure confidentiality for those who call in mandatory reports, such as a child abuse hotline, but it is easy for the accused to figure out the source from circumstantial evidence maintained by government agencies. A redacted report can usually be pieced together.

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #16 on: June 17, 2010, 01:23:19 PM »
Thank you. Is there a papal statement or anything saying exactly that very very personal things you say to a priest even outside a confession box but still in a very private setting are sacrosanct?

Cannon Law. If  priest reveals what he hears in a a confessional, he is automatically excommunicated by the very act itself.
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Offline mike

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #17 on: June 18, 2010, 02:23:54 PM »
I've heard that Peter the Great introduced the local canon in Russia that Priest had to report the fact that a parishman had intended to assassinate the tsar.

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2010, 07:18:33 PM »
This debate is currently ongoing in Finland. The Finnish Orthodox Church believes that the confidentiality of confession is sacrosanct, and is resisting calls that priests be legally obliged to report child abuse.

Offline Ionnis

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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #19 on: August 18, 2010, 11:19:24 PM »
I have been informed that some priests do not believe that what is shared in Confession is confidential.  That being said, I have never met a priest that stated that he did not believe Confession was confidential.
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Re: Confessor \ Priest confidentiallity
« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2010, 12:18:21 PM »
I have been informed that some priests do not believe that what is shared in Confession is confidential.  That being said, I have never met a priest that stated that he did not believe Confession was confidential.

I have.  Plus in Pastoral Care when we learned about these things the professor told us that in certain states you are required by law to be a primary reporter on anything (including things that happen in confession) and you are not protected by the law, in fact you are culpable. 

In fact, the professor said that we should obey these laws "to the best of our ability" I believe is the term he used. 
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