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« on: March 03, 2011, 10:47:46 AM »

Since I've noticed with some religions the secrecy of confessions can become a problem, e.g. hiding pedophiles, I must ask: in the Orthodox Church, does the hearer of a confession need to keep the information confidential even when the sin confessed is both a crime against God and a crime punishable by the state? 
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« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2011, 10:59:38 AM »

I have heard varying replies on this, actually. However, a priest may withhold absolution until the fulfillment of certain conditions--such as turning oneself in to authorities.
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« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2011, 11:01:42 AM »

I've heard that in the Orthodox Church confession secrecy is not a rule but a custom so  it can be broken in serious circumstances. For example in Russia after Peter the Great's reforms a Priest was obliged to report the person that confessed his plans to assassinate the tsar.
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« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2011, 04:19:28 PM »

Since I've noticed with some religions the secrecy of confessions can become a problem, e.g. hiding pedophiles, I must ask: in the Orthodox Church, does the hearer of a confession need to keep the information confidential even when the sin confessed is both a crime against God and a crime punishable by the state? 

I actually asked my priest about this recently. He said that confessions must be kept secret, in all situations, but (as mentioned above) the priest is not obligated to give absolution if he sees a serious problem (ie. a crime) or if the person intends to commit the sins in the future as well.

I am curious, however, if the priest is allowed to refer to/speak with his spiritual father about what he heard at confession and ask questions about what to do.
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2011, 09:53:06 PM »

I am curious, however, if the priest is allowed to refer to/speak with his spiritual father about what he heard at confession and ask questions about what to do.

He can as long as he doesn't use names or any identifying details. 
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« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2011, 10:03:06 PM »

You have to specify the country as well. In the US, the privilege not to testify extends towards your lawyer (which if he broke it, while you are still living, would result in professional ruin), your physician, shrink or otherwise (probably wouldn't ruin a career, but risk censure), your spouse, and your clergy.

Although all can testify if they so choose and depending on the relationship and the nature of the crime committed or pre-meditated, they are COMPELLED to do so (even an officer of the court), otherwise to be held as accessories either before or after the fact.

All this gets skirted around by making certain things vague enough to avoid the letter of the law of the State you are in.

As someone who has listened to 100's of inventories of people in recovery. I say up front: if you have killed anyone or molested a minor, tell it to a Priest or better yet your lawyer (they have the tightest privilege), if I hear a detailed enough confession, I am obligated to alert the authorities.

Murder rarely has a statute of limitations and the statute of limitations for child molestation is pretty long and in light of the shenanigans of the RCC, those statutes are being extended.

FWIW.
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« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2011, 10:05:56 PM »

I am curious, however, if the priest is allowed to refer to/speak with his spiritual father about what he heard at confession and ask questions about what to do.

He can as long as he doesn't use names or any identifying details. 

Same for a shrink speaking to their shrink. Anything that could possibly end up identifying the subject of discussion, open you up in the US to incredible liability.

Working closely and within the recovery and therapy and medical community, it is a very fine line.

I've had to stop a doc, shrink, etc. from continuing a conversation, because I was beginning to figure out who they were talking about.
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2011, 10:09:34 PM »

I am curious, however, if the priest is allowed to refer to/speak with his spiritual father about what he heard at confession and ask questions about what to do.

He can as long as he doesn't use names or any identifying details. 

Same for a shrink speaking to their shrink. Anything that could possibly end up identifying the subject of discussion, open you up in the US to incredible liability.

Working closely and within the recovery and therapy and medical community, it is a very fine line.

I've had to stop a doc, shrink, etc. from continuing a conversation, because I was beginning to figure out who they were talking about.

Many of these hurdles can be lifted though by clients signing documents to allow the parties they interact with to openly discuss any detail or certain details of their care management with each other.

My therapist's therapist knows me and I gave my therapist and her therapist carte blanche to discuss whatever she need to with her about me. She has the same prerogative to discuss anything with my Priest or medical doc or attorney.
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« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2011, 10:11:58 PM »

The priest who chrismated me, using an extreme example, said that if I confessed I had put a bomb on a plane, he could not call the authorities. But he would also not absolve me until I turned myself in, so my salvation could be in jeopardy if I didn't do so. But based on that, no, a priest cannot act on his own initiative upon anything a person says in confession.

Now, as I understand it, if a priest was molesting children and he confessed it, and refused to tell his bishop, the other priest could excommunicate him temporarily and he would not be able to celebrate the Liturgy. So, while a confessor cannot act on anything, he has a lot of power to compel the penitent to do the right thing (not the least of which, the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth).

(edit) That's why I find it somewhat odd that all these abuse scandals go on this way. Why did these confessors not excommunicate priests who were doing this? A priest has to confess regularly, so it's not like it could be snuck past anyone (unless they never confessed it, which raises much more serious eternal questions).
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« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2011, 10:17:43 PM »

I've heard that in the Orthodox Church confession secrecy is not a rule but a custom so  it can be broken in serious circumstances. For example in Russia after Peter the Great's reforms a Priest was obliged to report the person that confessed his plans to assassinate the tsar.

I personally understand that if a person WILL BE a harm to himself or others (as opposed to already have been), then confidentiality rules MUST be broken.
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« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2011, 10:21:01 PM »

The priest who chrismated me, using an extreme example, said that if I confessed I had put a bomb on a plane, he could not call the authorities. But he would also not absolve me until I turned myself in, so my salvation could be in jeopardy if I didn't do so. But based on that, no, a priest cannot act on his own initiative upon anything a person says in confession.

Now, as I understand it, if a priest was molesting children and he confessed it, and refused to tell his bishop, the other priest could excommunicate him temporarily and he would not be able to celebrate the Liturgy. So, while a confessor cannot act on anything, he has a lot of power to compel the penitent to do the right thing (not the least of which, the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth).

(edit) That's why I find it somewhat odd that all these abuse scandals go on this way. Why did these confessors not excommunicate priests who were doing this? A priest has to confess regularly, so it's not like it could be snuck past anyone (unless they never confessed it, which raises much more serious eternal questions).

If the case you presented, if found out that your Priest had clear, specific, and convincing knowledge that you were going to actually commit that crime, he would be prosecuted as an accessory, if anyone ever found out.

The points you bring are the reason the RCC could be in the States headed down an ugly road of non-molesting Priests being charged with being accessories to crimes and on the grander scale criminal conspiracy.

I really do believe that if the law enforcement post 911 didn't have such strict mandates when prosecuting criminal conspiracy cases outside of those which amount to extreme risk to Homeland Security, the RCC would be in much, much heavier (fill in the blank).
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« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2011, 10:26:46 PM »

The priest who chrismated me, using an extreme example, said that if I confessed I had put a bomb on a plane, he could not call the authorities. But he would also not absolve me until I turned myself in, so my salvation could be in jeopardy if I didn't do so. But based on that, no, a priest cannot act on his own initiative upon anything a person says in confession.

Now, as I understand it, if a priest was molesting children and he confessed it, and refused to tell his bishop, the other priest could excommunicate him temporarily and he would not be able to celebrate the Liturgy. So, while a confessor cannot act on anything, he has a lot of power to compel the penitent to do the right thing (not the least of which, the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth).

(edit) That's why I find it somewhat odd that all these abuse scandals go on this way. Why did these confessors not excommunicate priests who were doing this? A priest has to confess regularly, so it's not like it could be snuck past anyone (unless they never confessed it, which raises much more serious eternal questions).

If the case you presented, if found out that your Priest had clear, specific, and convincing knowledge that you were going to actually commit that crime, he would be prosecuted as an accessory, if anyone ever found out.

The points you bring are the reason the RCC could be in the States headed down an ugly road of non-molesting Priests being charged with being accessories to crimes and on the grander scale criminal conspiracy.

I really do believe that if the law enforcement post 911 didn't have such strict mandates when prosecuting criminal conspiracy cases outside of those which amount to extreme risk to Homeland Security, the RCC would be in much, much heavier (fill in the blank).

Good for my priest and for me, I don't plan on blowing up any planes.  Grin

But that's interesting. A priest being tried as an accessory notwithstanding, they would still be in violation of the Church's rule of absolute secrecy, so I wonder if they would still be defrocked for breaking that rule.
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2011, 10:33:39 PM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.
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« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2011, 04:21:24 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

Being convicted for a serious crime would, in most cases, lead to having one's priesthood taken away anyway.  Wink
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« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2011, 09:01:35 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

But Father, I don't think it's really a "confession" for anyone who comes to tell you that they're going to kill someone or themselves.  Why wouldn't the Church allow a priest to break confidentiality rules on this point if the person will be harm for him/herself or others?
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« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2011, 11:04:23 AM »

The priest who chrismated me, using an extreme example, said that if I confessed I had put a bomb on a plane, he could not call the authorities. But he would also not absolve me until I turned myself in, so my salvation could be in jeopardy if I didn't do so. But based on that, no, a priest cannot act on his own initiative upon anything a person says in confession.

Now, as I understand it, if a priest was molesting children and he confessed it, and refused to tell his bishop, the other priest could excommunicate him temporarily and he would not be able to celebrate the Liturgy. So, while a confessor cannot act on anything, he has a lot of power to compel the penitent to do the right thing (not the least of which, the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth).

(edit) That's why I find it somewhat odd that all these abuse scandals go on this way. Why did these confessors not excommunicate priests who were doing this? A priest has to confess regularly, so it's not like it could be snuck past anyone (unless they never confessed it, which raises much more serious eternal questions).

If the case you presented, if found out that your Priest had clear, specific, and convincing knowledge that you were going to actually commit that crime, he would be prosecuted as an accessory, if anyone ever found out.

The points you bring are the reason the RCC could be in the States headed down an ugly road of non-molesting Priests being charged with being accessories to crimes and on the grander scale criminal conspiracy.

I really do believe that if the law enforcement post 911 didn't have such strict mandates when prosecuting criminal conspiracy cases outside of those which amount to extreme risk to Homeland Security, the RCC would be in much, much heavier (fill in the blank).

This is not entirely true.

I never practiced criminal law, but having worked with Family Courts for many years I have some familiarity with the subject as there are many parallels between the privilege afforded clergy/penitent communications and the privilege afforded licensed social workers and therapists.

Criminal Defense Wiki actually has a well written and detailed explanation of the subject which would be far more edifying and less misleading than any attempt by me to condense the article. http://defensewiki.ibj.org/index.php/Priest-Penitent_Privilege 

A number of states have made clergy so-called 'mandatory reporters' of child abuse (as has been done with limiting the physician/counselor privilege) in recent years in light of recent public demands. The obtaining of a waiver by the penitent of the privilege as a condition for absolution may be sufficient for a priest to disclose abuse with a clear conscience but that is something for bishops, canonists and theologians to decide. Child abuse reporters are given protection from disclosure under some state statutes and some states allow an anonymous report to trigger an investigation by children's services. Hope this helped.

Keep in mind that there are differences among the 50 states (although each recognizes some form of privilege) and between the states and federal courts.

I think that a priest is faced with an even more difficult moral choice if a person seeking confession or counseling admits to a heinous crime for which another person has been found guilty and is incarcerated or even facing the death penalty as a result of conviction. I am interested to learn how some of our clergy feel about that hypothetical. (If you don't want to post, I will keep confidential any personal message you might send me.)

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« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2011, 11:05:41 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

Being convicted for a serious crime would, in most cases, lead to having one's priesthood taken away anyway.  Wink

In some cases that would not be true if the secular crime were viewed by the Church as being committed in defense of the Church. It would depend on the circumstances.
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« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2011, 11:02:05 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

Being convicted for a serious crime would, in most cases, lead to having one's priesthood taken away anyway.  Wink

 Tongue

I know, but I think you know what I meant Smiley
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« Reply #18 on: March 08, 2011, 11:02:22 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

Being convicted for a serious crime would, in most cases, lead to having one's priesthood taken away anyway.  Wink

In some cases that would not be true if the secular crime were viewed by the Church as being committed in defense of the Church. It would depend on the circumstances.

^ That's what I meant.  Cool
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« Reply #19 on: March 08, 2011, 11:04:18 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

But Father, I don't think it's really a "confession" for anyone who comes to tell you that they're going to kill someone or themselves.  Why wouldn't the Church allow a priest to break confidentiality rules on this point if the person will be harm for him/herself or others?

You hit the nail on the head: it's not really a confession when someone comes in to make threats. That is why all of these hypotheticals fail.  The Roman Catholics used such examples to teach a principle and make a point, which is fine, but then it gets taken to the extreme and assumed to be some kind of normative occurrence.

If someone did something crazy I would probably just call my bishop and have him rule on the situation. If it were an emergency, I'd pray and use discretion.
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« Reply #20 on: March 08, 2011, 11:28:11 AM »

I'd rather be convicted as an accessory to a crime than have my priesthood taken away.

But Father, I don't think it's really a "confession" for anyone who comes to tell you that they're going to kill someone or themselves.  Why wouldn't the Church allow a priest to break confidentiality rules on this point if the person will be harm for him/herself or others?

You hit the nail on the head: it's not really a confession when someone comes in to make threats. That is why all of these hypotheticals fail.  The Roman Catholics used such examples to teach a principle and make a point, which is fine, but then it gets taken to the extreme and assumed to be some kind of normative occurrence.

If someone did something crazy I would probably just call my bishop and have him rule on the situation. If it were an emergency, I'd pray and use discretion.

There are crazy people out there. My priest, who wears a Latin collar, was at a diocesan conference two years ago, eating dinner at a pub. A rough-looking man approached him and said, "Father, forgive me what I gotta do."  Shocked

He was completely taken aback, and told him he couldn't forgive him for something he hadn't done. The guy got nervous and quickly left.
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« Reply #21 on: March 08, 2011, 12:04:37 PM »

My Father Confessor once explained himself this way (to paraphrase):

"If you came in and told me you went across the street and stole from Kroger, I could not turn you into the authorities, but I would anathematize and withold absolution until you turned yourself in. At that point, I would absolve you and, if you were to serve time, bring the Eucharist to you in prison.

"However, if you told me you were planning on stealing from Kroger, I still could not tell them to look out for you specifically, but I surely could let them know I have it on good word that they may be robbed and should be more alert than usual."
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« Reply #22 on: March 08, 2011, 12:06:35 PM »

^ Yes, that is permissible from an Orthodox pov. The Roman Catholic rules would prohibit it for the record.
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« Reply #23 on: March 08, 2011, 12:15:00 PM »

The Roman Catholic rules would prohibit it for the record.

Really? Hmm.

I'm curious as to the difference of the canons concerning the Mystery of Repentence between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. I know we view it differently from the theological point-of-view...what else is different?
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« Reply #24 on: March 08, 2011, 02:22:52 PM »

^ Yes, that is permissible from an Orthodox pov. The Roman Catholic rules would prohibit it for the record.

An Orthodox priest would be able in good conscience then to call a Child Protective or Homeland Security Hotline for example under this scenario.
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« Reply #25 on: March 09, 2011, 08:55:28 AM »

^ Yes, that is permissible from an Orthodox pov. The Roman Catholic rules would prohibit it for the record.

An Orthodox priest would be able in good conscience then to call a Child Protective or Homeland Security Hotline for example under this scenario.

Right, again, in this theoretical example where some would-be terrorist or child rapist decides to come in and tell you he is about to strike, I don't see a problem with calling the authorities and telling them there is a high degree of probability that someone in situation X might be in danger.  Revealing the name of the would-be attacker might be a violation of the seal of confession, but is this really a confession?

If someone came in and confessed he had already committed a crime and was repentant for it, your only solution would be to withhold absolution though until the criminal turned himself in. If he is truly repentant, he would of course follow this course of action.

The distinction between the Orthodox and RC views to be clear is that the RCs would say that ALL information learned during confession, not just identifying information, is privileged.  Orthodox do not believe this.
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« Reply #26 on: March 09, 2011, 10:59:26 AM »

^ Yes, that is permissible from an Orthodox pov. The Roman Catholic rules would prohibit it for the record.

An Orthodox priest would be able in good conscience then to call a Child Protective or Homeland Security Hotline for example under this scenario.

Right, again, in this theoretical example where some would-be terrorist or child rapist decides to come in and tell you he is about to strike, I don't see a problem with calling the authorities and telling them there is a high degree of probability that someone in situation X might be in danger.  Revealing the name of the would-be attacker might be a violation of the seal of confession, but is this really a confession?

If someone came in and confessed he had already committed a crime and was repentant for it, your only solution would be to withhold absolution though until the criminal turned himself in. If he is truly repentant, he would of course follow this course of action.

The distinction between the Orthodox and RC views to be clear is that the RCs would say that ALL information learned during confession, not just identifying information, is privileged.  Orthodox do not believe this.

Thank you Father as your post is consistent with what I have been taught through my family members in the clergy. Another question though. Taking the issue out of confession, per se, most states recognize a form of clergy privilege which, as I posted earlier, is similar to the privilege afforded to psychological counseling. Under New York law, for example, the privilege can only be waived by the person seeking counsel, hence you, as the priest, could not be compelled to testify in a court of law regarding the nature and content of the counseling sessions.That issue is clear and straight-forward.

Going further and taking the matter out of the court scenario, how would you treat the disclosure of an intent to commit a serious crime intended to cause bodily harm or worse to a fellow human and how would you treat the disclosure of such a crime that had already been committed by the person being counseled?

To go one step further, for example the rules of my legal profession, the medical profession, the psychology profession  and others would make it unethical for the counselor in any of these situations to go to the authorities with that information - hence the anonymous protection afforded by the CPS hotline.

Would an Orthodox priest be under any ethical obligation to protect the identity of the person being counseled outside of confession,or are there circumstances, beyond the providing of basic information through a hotline, where a priest could, or should go to the proper authorities? Wouldn't it matter if he were a licensed clinician?

These are tough questions with many variables, but I think that there is a lot of 'urban legend' in the minds of the laity regarding these questions and some of those myths are destructive and undermine the public confidence in our clergy. Thanks for your forthright answers in this thread as they have been helpful.
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