Internal forum/confession and reporting crimes to the state

My friend Fr. Ray Blake, parish priest in Brighton at St. Mary Magdalen has a very good entry on his blog.  To a degree it represents also some of my own reflections in the last few days.

Let’s have a look:

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos’ letter and Fr Lombardi’s response is still troubling me.

Obviously, we all want to root out the "filth that has infiltrated the Church", the Pope has made war on the sexual abuse of children by clergy and its cover-up. He has stressed that in this matter the members of the Church, including bishops, are not above the law and should co-operate with the civil authorities. Because of the horrific nature of such abuse and the long term affects of it on the victim, few could argue against such a stance with this particular crime.

My problem is my problem is the precedent it sets in the relationship of the priest and the Church with the law of the state, how far should our co-operation extend?

In the previous post most people have said that a priest should reveal those things told to him outside the confessional, as good Catholics they accept the inviolability of the "seal of Confession" but in today’s secular society the Confessional is hardly likely to constitute an acceptable legal defense in a civil court. [Furthermore, mark my word, the priest's legal privilege in this regard is going to come under greater attack.]

In my experience spiritual direction is often linked to Confession, an hour long conversation may well lead into Confession. If someone has committed a serious sin as a priest my intention is to bring him to repentance. In some cases that might be my intention but necessarily the intention of person who has come to talk to me, in some cases this might be the object of a series of conversations lasting over a number of weeks and Confession my take place in the place where we are talking. [Therefore, what part of the process would be considered "under the Seal"?  It seems that the whole thing is a matter of the "internal forum".  But what would the state consider privileged?]

Therefore the problem for a priest is: what constitutes both confession and the confessional[Does it have to be in a confessional?  Obviously not.  But in general if I have to hear a confession after a long discussion of some sort elsewhere, I say that we should for the confession use the confessional.  That isn't always possible.  But that is what confessionals are for.]

What does a priest do when, for example, an airline pilot wants to talk about his relationship problems and in the conversation he then reveals he has drink problem, or a doctor reveals his drug problem, both of which place others at serious risk? What does he do when the daughter of an elderly confused father tells him she gets so frustrated she hits him regularly or locks the door of the house and leaves him sitting in his own filth for hours on end? On a more prosaic level what does he do when someone tells him about benefit or tax fraud.

The implication of what the Pope has been saying is that the priest should report these occurrences, "The Church is not above the law". In the past a priest would want to lead the sinner to repentance and to get them to resolve the situation themselves.

Looking at the worst case situations: in Uganda the law says homosexual acts are illegal and punishable by imprisonment, what does a priest in Uganda do when someone tells him he is engaged in homosexual sex? In China where underground Christianity itself is illegal, what is bishop or priest to do?

In England, a Catholic teachers might in the future tell a priest that they have denied a child her right to access contraceptive or abortion services, would he be expected to report the teacher?

 

We will be hearing more about this in the future.

It may be that we will see a new wave of martyrs.

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31 Responses to Internal forum/confession and reporting crimes to the state

  1. AnAmericanMother says:

    St. John Nepomucene, pray for us and for our priests!

    There’s an absolute privilege under the law of our state for “any priest of the Roman Catholic faith” as well as “any Protestant minister of the Gospel”, Orthodox priests, and rabbis.

    I know of at least one case in another state where a prosecutor violated the privilege by surreptitiously recording a confession . . . but it hasn’t happened here to my knowledge.

  2. robtbrown says:

    There’s an absolute privilege under the law of our state for “any priest of the Roman Catholic faith” as well as “any Protestant minister of the Gospel”, Orthodox priests, and rabbis.

    That it is extended to Protestants indicates to me that the privilege covers all spiritual conversations with priests, not merely those in Confession.

    I know of at least one case in another state where a prosecutor violated the privilege by surreptitiously recording a confession . . . but it hasn’t happened here to my knowledge.
    Comment by AnAmericanMother

    Of course, the privilege is also extended to psychiatrists and legal counsel. I have read of attempts by prosecutors to violate both. IMHO, those prosecutors should be disbarred.

  3. Dan says:

    In Illinois the law privileges both confession and spiritual direction, as I recall. We have been told that perhaps the best way to deal with these “extraordinary” situations (parking lot, airport, etc.) is to ask directly if the person would like to make a confession.

    I don’t think the law here specifically references a confessional, as it also acknowledges that ministers of other denominations and faiths have some level of privacy that is inviolable by the State.

    But I agree, Father, that it seems to be a problem on the horizon – especially with regards to what the State will consider as “internal forum”.

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    The statute refers to ‘every communication made by any person professing religious faith, seeking spiritual comfort, or seeking counseling’. Haven’t been a lot of cases, but it appears that the person claiming the privilege must show that the communication was during ‘spiritual counseling or a profession of religious faith’.

    It’s a separate section in the Evidence code on witnesses from the catchall ‘confidentiality’ provision that includes the spousal and attorney-client privileges, grand jurors, psychiatrists, etc.

    A formal sacramental Confession would clearly qualify – the other language I would think was added to cover denominations where there is none.

    I notice on reading it that it says “Greek Orthodox” which I suppose leaves the Russians out.

  5. robtbrown says:

    BTW, Alfred Hitchcock, who was Catholic, made a film on this same premise–I Confess.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045897/

  6. Titus says:

    Although Fr. Z is undoubtedly prescient in warnings of future challenges, the present law of evidence in the United States protects not only the confessional but also the discussions considered above.

    The law of privileges in the federal system is controlled by well-established common law rules. Some states rely on the common law, while others have reduced their privileges to codified rules. The common law rules applicable in the federal system (and relevant states) privilege from discovery any discussion between a priest or other religious minister and a person seeking spiritual guidance. The conversations that lead into confession clearly fall within this category. The privilege is held by the penitent, not the priest, however—so if the penitent waives the privilege than the priest could be subpoenaed to testify. There is not a single recorded case of an American court attempting to coerce a priest to break the seal, for what it’s worth.

    The recording case referenced by robtbrown took place in a prison over the telephones you see on TV. I want to say that all conversations were recorded as a matter of course and that they simply didn’t tell the inmate. That was a nasty situation, though. The only other case that you see in casebooks, etc., is one in which a suspect had talked to a priest but later died. The court actually accepted evidence from the Archdiocese of New York on whether the conversation in question was actually a confession governed by the seal (the Archdiocese ruled that it was not and that the priest could testify). That case is Morales v. Portuondo, 154 F.Supp.2d 706 (S.D.N.Y.,2001).

  7. Mrs. O says:

    From what I have read, there was a disagreement on how they should proceed. From CNA
    Congregation for the Clergy, and at that time, there was a disagreement between cardinals about whether priests who were found guilty should be prosecuted under both civil and canon law or just under Church law.

    For me, it is easy, these criminal acts have to be reported to the proper authorities.
    I would hope and pray that these men were still helped spiritually.

    Also, other victims do not come out till others start speaking – criminal case – so you don’t know the extent to begin with. You would like to think that these men are sincere in their repentance, but there is also a severe disorder that goes along with it and they don’t always tell everything and sometimes, they lie.

    I am glad it switched to the CDF and they expect all to be reported to the authorities. I strongly disagree with what Cardinal Hoyos did but I understand to a degree, the reasoning behind it. That attitude needed reforming.

  8. JFrater says:

    Surely the solution is simple – the Church should hold an ecclesiastical trial – if the person is found guilty, hand them to the state. This is how we worked things during the various periods of inquisition and it worked very well. This also then does not usurp the authority of the Church over the state.

  9. thereseb says:

    I hope I am not taking this discussion down a rabbit-hole – but are not some of the more serious offences classified as reserved sins – and thus become the responsibility of the bishop? (Responsibility isn’t the right word – but I can’t think of the apposite one). That would mean that other than in a grave emergency, there would be a formal procedure to be followed and there could be no confusion about the status of the conversation/confession.

  10. I was also under the impression that Spiritual Direction was closely tied to confession. There are things that I mention there that I don’t want getting out in public either.

    The blood of martyrs…

  11. Peggy R says:

    I have the same basic understanding that US law considers all communications between a clergy and a defendant/suspect to be confidential. Also, I have gathered that, even secular therapy is to remain confidential. While I don’t know the outcome of such a case, I have read about cases of recovering alcoholic defendants who’ve “confessed” (ie, 5th step of his past) to their AA sponsors who are bound by the ethics of AA to respect confidentiality among members and sponsees in particular. The question is whether the AA sponsor is obligated to reveal to the courts what the defendant confessed.

    Finally, I wondered whether the priest confessor, since he cannot reveal to authorities what he hears, would urge a person to set things right with authorities, whether tax evasion or confessing a crime to the police. What if the priest kept after the person (privately, discreetly) in the weeks afterward if there’s no known action taken by the person to set things right?

    If it’s a sin that doesn’t constitute a crime, say, I confess I’ve neglected grandma too many weeks, the priest would probably urge me to visit grandma as soon as I could–that day maybe. Why could a priest not urge a person to face the authorities, and perhaps offer what moral courage he could in the process of facing a crime?

    An added wrinkle here is that we are talking about priests as the criminals and bishops or fellow priests as confessors. But still, discreet fraternal correction and all…

  12. dcs says:

    What if the priest kept after the person (privately, discreetly) in the weeks afterward if there’s no known action taken by the person to set things right?

    He can’t do that. He could possibly urge him in confession but he can’t disclose anything he knows from confession even to the penitent unless the penitent brings it up first. Even then the priest could not disclose it to others.

  13. Peggy R says:

    DCS: Okay on not bringing it up to penitent. I do not mean for the priest to bring it up to others, ever, FYI.

  14. moon1234 says:

    I personally like the idea of an ecclesictiacl trial as well. If the clergy have done something that violates Canon law, they should be tried and judged. If they are found guilty, then whatever punishment they receive under Canon law should be handed down. Once this trial is over, then the civil authorities would get their turn and could use the evidence that was gathered during the ecclesactical trial.

    Watch the movie Becket. This very thing came up in the movie. A priest was accused of debauching a your girl. Lord Byon’s servents, of King Henry’s court, apprehended the Priest and in front of Lord Byron killed him. St. Thomas Becket, who at that time was still the chancellor of England, decided that Lord Byron must stand trial for Murder under the laws of the realm. King Henry was furious. He told Thomas that the Priest was guilty and got what he deserved. St. Thomas Becket wisely stated “That was never determined. The Priest was to stand trial in the Church courts first and answer the accusations.”

    This was one of the main things that King Henry tried to impose on the Church. He wanted to try all clerics in the civil court first. St. Thomas Becket stood up to Henry and defended the rights of the Church. This ultimately got hot killed.

    This new directive from Rome is ambigous. Does it mean the cleric is to be tried first by the Church and then handed over to the civil authorities? If he is tried by the Church and found not guilty, then what? Still hand him over to the state? This is a very dangerous state of affairs.

  15. jamie r says:

    I think the clergy should look to the Angelic Doctor for this.

    1) In Confession, as in other sacraments, a priest doesn’t act as Fr. So-and-so, but in persona Christi, leading Thomas to say, “That which is known in confession, is, as it were, unknown, since a man knows it, not as man, but as God knows it” (Sup.11.1.ad 1). This is the grounds for the seal of confession.

    2) If knowledge accidentally gained through confession would seem to demand action (e.g., if, through the seal, a priest knows someone is a heretic or that two cousins are going to marry each other), that “One should apply some kind of remedy, so far as this can be done without divulging the confession, e.g. by admonishing the penitent, and by watching over the others lest they be corrupted by heresy. He can also tell the prelate to watch over his flock with great care, yet so as by neither word nor sign to betray the penitent. (idem.)” Telling the police to watch over his flock with great care would not seem to violate the seal.

    3) In the same question, article 5, Thomas takes up whether something known through both confession and outside of confession is subject to the seal. In confession, the confessor knows as God knows, and outside confession, the priest knows as a man knows. Therefore, it isn’t subject to the seal, but should be kept secret except in grave cases to avoid scandal.

    4) One can, and ought, keep a confessing clergy away from ecclesial posts where he’ll do more harm without breaking the seal. “A man is rendered unworthy of ecclesiastical preferment, by many other causes besides sin, for instance, by lack of knowledge, age, or the like: so that by raising an objection one does not raise a suspicion of crime or divulge the secret of confession (11.1.ad 4)”

    So, to conclude, the seal of confession only keeps a priest from telling people what the priest knows in persona Christi, and not what he knows as man. It also doesn’t keep him from using other, indirect means to try to mitigate or prevent future sin without breaking the seal.

    It may be the case that in some places (e.g., America) the best way to protect the seal of confession from civil authorities is to fight any encroachment on it. On the other hand, letting problems fester and placing children at risk because of the seal by place the seal and the Church at even greater risk.

  16. Cavaliere says:

    Surely the solution is simple – the Church should hold an ecclesiastical trial – if the person is found guilty, hand them to the state. This is how we worked things during the various periods of inquisition and it worked very well. This also then does not usurp the authority of the Church over the state.

    This was the argument of Henry II and something I wrote about on my blog with respect to historical precedent and the issue with Cardinal Hoyos. To clarify the comments by moon1234 the Church would hold an ecclesiastical trial and the priest if found guilty would be defrocked (or other appropriate penalty) but not turned over to the civil authorities. Henry II’s argument was that since the defrocked priest was no longer a priest he could be arrested and prosecuted by the secular authorities. St. Thomas Beckett argued against this saying it would amount to double jeopardy for the guilty priest. He rightly viewed Henry’s attempts as a threat on all the rights and jurisdictions of the Church St. Thomas’s position held despite his martyrdom and it was not until the Protestant Reformation that this was finally overturned. Ironically it was probably the Church’s view on the rights of the monarchy that kept his own head from swinging at the end of a tree for his role in the murder of Thomas.

    It should also be noted that during the Inquisition people convicted in ecclesastical courts were only turned over to the civil authorities when the convicted obstinately refused to repent and at this point were ultimately viewed as a threat to the State. The Church was often more lenient and merciful in its judgements as it held the condition of the person’s immortal soul to be the most important factor.

  17. Mark01 says:

    I don’t know anything about how an ecclesiastical trial would work, but I thought one of the reasons for keeping the seal of confession was so that people were not intimidated to confess their sins for the benefit of their eternal soul. No matter how you use the information gained from confession, doesn’t the fact that information divulged during confession could be used against you destroy the trust and intimidate people? That’s why it’s so tough, it’s not just about the legal nuts and bolts, it’s also about saving peoples’ souls. If they fear divulging their sins in confession then less people will go to confession, and their souls will be put at risk. True, not taking action risks the souls of others, this is why it is such a difficult question.

  18. William says:

    Sacramental Confession and psychological therapy (counseling) are TWO DIFFERENT things!! And there has to be a difference between breaking confidentiality and breaking the Seal. Sorry, but the doctor/patient or lawyer/client, or even protestant clergy model just doesn’t hold up here.

    Priests in the confessional are not doctors, lawyers, or civil servants. They can do only one thing for you: return your soul to a state of grace if you come to them willingly and disposed to having it so reconciled.

    Confessional boxes need to be universally re-installed and priests hearing Confession need to wear a stole as a sign of the Sacramental Seal.

  19. robtbrown says:

    jamie r,
    The legal protection of confidentiality extends beyond the seal of confession. NB: the mention of its application to Protestants, to psychotherapists, and to legal counsel.

  20. jamie r says:

    Robtbrown,

    True. I did note that for pragmatic reasons, in America, it may be best not to allow any encroachment. However, there may be legal problems with that approach, and there are certainly moral problems with that approach.

    Legally, it’s worth keeping in mind that laws change. Just because it is currently the case that American jurisprudence treats that as confidential doesn’t mean it always will. In 1965 you could be arrested without being told you had a right to remind silent; in 1967, that was no longer the case. Exactly what is and isn’t protected by the fourth ammendment is a movable line. Besides, we’re talking about a Colombian Cardinal’s advice to a French Bishop. The question, therefore, is not so much “What are the confessor’s obligations today under American civil law?” but “What ought priests do in light of the nature of the sacrament and the gravity of the crime?”

    I think that, in the interests of protecting the Church – both the clergy and the laity – confessors ought take into account Thomas’ writing on the issue. First, Bishops and Cardinals acting like Hoyos and Pican endangers Catholic children. Secondly, it endangers all Catholics, especially Hoyos and Pican, by causing scandal. Thirdly, it endangers the Church’s authority with regards to the state, especially on the subject of the seal of confession. If we want the state to respect the seal, it may be necessary to turn in offending priests, which, can be indirectly so as not to break the seal.

  21. Jordanes says:

    Jamie R said: Besides, we’re talking about a Colombian Cardinal’s advice to a French Bishop.

    Wrong. Cardinal Castrillon was not giving advice, but was expressing his approval of the bishop obeying the Church’s law regarding the confidentiality of the confessional seal.

    The question, therefore, is not so much “What are the confessor’s obligations today under American civil law?” but “What ought priests do in light of the nature of the sacrament and the gravity of the crime?”

    The gravity of the crime is irrelevant. The sanctity of the confessional is inviolate, under all circumstances.

    First, Bishops and Cardinals acting like Hoyos (sic) and Pican endangers Catholic children.

    It may be the case that obedience to God results indirectly in human suffering, but that would not justify Cardinal Castrillon and Bishop Pican acting in a way that violates the irrevocable secrecy of the confessional.

    If we want the state to respect the seal, it may be necessary to turn in offending priests, which, can be indirectly so as not to break the seal.

    It is never permissible to do evil that good may come of it. Therefore there can be no turning in of offending priests if the only way to do that means breaking the confessional seal. The way that can be done is for the Church to encourage victims to notify the secular power and seek redress in that way, for it is impermissible for bishops to tell the secular power anything that they learn in the confessional.

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    Priests must take care that confessions are bracketed by certain words, so that it’s clear to the most confused penitent what’s happening. They must be warned about the gravity of what’s happening.

    The other side of the coin is the person who wants to cover something they’ve done by confessing but not taking care of a crime. The priest needs to attend to this, perhaps by withholding sacamental absolution until the problem has been dealt with.

    Priests who use the confessional in the course of a crime need to be dealt with very, very, very harshly, because it is they that endanger us all. I believe it’s an automatic excommunication for a priest to divulge a confession; perhaps the same penalty ought to be attached to using the confessional to commit a crime. I’m not talking about a self-imposed one either. I’m talking about a public one.

  23. ocsousn says:

    Here is a link to the U S Navy’s policy on confidentiality for chaplains serving with the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000%20Military%20Personnel%20Support/01-700%20Morale,%20Community%20and%20Religious%20Services/1730.9.pdf It is based on base on the Common Law recognition of the seal of confession which has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court. This protection has been repeatedly affirmed and strengthened since I first came on active duty as a priest chaplain in 1991. If the link doesn’t work go to Google and type in SECNAV 1730.9. It will pop right up.

    Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o.
    CDR, CHC, USN
    Deputy Division Chaplain
    2d Marine Division
    Camp Lejeune, NC

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    I know I’ve often been in the situation where the priest appears to want to visit or something, and I have to prompt him to begin confession in a formal way. I expect a lot of people sort of slide into confession conversationally. I’ve done it myself, but I don’t like it. I also don’t like it when I can’t really tell if I’ve gotten sacramental absolution or not.

    People treat this sacrament far too casually, I think.

  25. jamie r says:

    Jordanes,

    My point in mentioning nationality is that the American legal status of things that border on confession is irrelevant.

    “The gravity of the crime is irrelevant. The sanctity of the confessional is inviolate, under all circumstances.”

    Well, yes. However, the seal of confession is an issue of the confessor revealing knowledge that he gained while acting in persona christi. If while not acting in persona christi, a priest comes to know something, then the seal is irrelevant. The seal is a function of it being a sacrament, and applies to knowledge and revealing that knowledge. If a pederast priest confesses to his Bishop, there are many things the Bishop can do in light of the gravity of the crime without revealing the content of confession; that is, without breaking the seal.

    “It may be the case that obedience to God results indirectly in human suffering, but that would not justify Cardinal Castrillon and Bishop Pican acting in a way that violates the irrevocable secrecy of the confessional.”

    I believe you misunderstood what I was saying. Are you familiar at all with St. Thomas? St. Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelic Doctor, wrote an important book in the middle ages called the Summa Theologica, though you will also see it called Summa Theologiae. If you go to that, and look at question 11 of the supplement to the third part, you will find several articles dealing with the seal of confession. You can find that here. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5011.htm. Alternatively, you could look at my first post.

    I’m talking about things confessors can do WITHOUT BREAKING THE SEAL of confession. I’m not talking about breaking the seal. My point is that information learned outside confession, even if also known from inside confession, is not subject to the seal, and that a superior can act on this information if it’s grave and if he can do so without revealing information that is under the seal.

    “Therefore there can be no turning in of offending priests if the only way to do that means breaking the confessional seal”

    Hopefully I’ve already clarified that I’m not talking about breaking the seal. If this information is also learned outside of confession, and it’s grave, the seal’s not an issue. Moreover, if this information can be acted on without breaking the seal, then the confessor should do it. E.g., the confessor could require the pederast priest to turn himself in to the proper authorities, civil or ecclesial, as penance. Or, if the confessor is the pederast’s superior, he could at the very least tuck him away in a chancery office where he won’t do any more harm.

    In sum, the seal of confession is more than a simple juridical act. It follows from the nature of confession. What the priest hears in confession is heard in persona Christi, and, as such, it would be sinful for him to reveal it in persona sacerdotis. The seal applies to revealing knowledge learned in confession. It doesn’t apply to knowledge learned outside confession, or to not revealing knowledge. So, the confessor can do things based on knowledge learned outside confession, or without revealing knowledge learned in confession. And if it’s a Bishop dealing with a pederast priest, he probably should do so much as he can.

  26. Scott W. says:

    The other side of the coin is the person who wants to cover something they’ve done by confessing but not taking care of a crime. The priest needs to attend to this, perhaps by withholding sacamental absolution until the problem has been dealt with.

    As I understand it, if they are using confession as a cover for crime, that would likely invalidate the confession. Also, as I understand it, the priest cannot withold absolution based on whether the penitent turns himself in. People would stay away from the Sacrament if that were so. Also, I am a little leary of turning the Sacrament into East Berlin with an attitude of, “Warning! You are now leaving the seal of confessional!” and being followed by trench-coated figures with flashlights and guard dogs looking for the slightest misstep.

  27. robtbrown says:

    True. I did note that for pragmatic reasons, in America, it may be best not to allow any encroachment. However, there may be legal problems with that approach, and there are certainly moral problems with that approach.

    Wasn’t it shown above that there is an obligation to confidentiality on the part of clergy, psychotherapists, and legal counsel?

    Legally, it’s worth keeping in mind that laws change. Just because it is currently the case that American jurisprudence treats that as confidential doesn’t mean it always will.

    In 1965 you could be arrested without being told you had a right to remind silent; in 1967, that was no longer the case. Exactly what is and isn’t protected by the fourth ammendment is a movable line. Besides, we’re talking about a Colombian Cardinal’s advice to a French Bishop. The question, therefore, is not so much “What are the confessor’s obligations today under American civil law?” but “What ought priests do in light of the nature of the sacrament and the gravity of the crime?”

    There are two different questions at hand. The first is whether an abusing priest should be turned over to civil authorities. Although it’s easy to say yes, such an approach undermines the jurisdiction of canon law over priests.

    The second, which seems to have nothing to do with the French case, is the obligation to confidentiality.

    I think that, in the interests of protecting the Church – both the clergy and the laity – confessors ought take into account Thomas’ writing on the issue. First, Bishops and Cardinals acting like Hoyos and Pican endangers Catholic children.

    See above.

    Secondly, it endangers all Catholics, especially Hoyos and Pican, by causing scandal. Thirdly, it endangers the Church’s authority with regards to the state, especially on the subject of the seal of confession. If we want the state to respect the seal, it may be necessary to turn in offending priests, which, can be indirectly so as not to break the seal.
    Comment by jamie r

    Once again, turning offenders over to civil authorities isn’t necessarily breaking the seal of confession.

    I also question your reading of St Thomas. As priests like Fr Blake have pointed out, it is not so simple to locate the boundaries of the seal of confession. I think you’re assuming St Thomas means something he does not mean.

    One other point: Although the questions you cited on Penance are often enlightening, they are part of the Supplement to the Summa, and St Thomas was not responsible for the final product. They were assembled mostly using St Thomas’ structure, but the content probably came from earlier (less mature) texts, including his Commentary on the Sentences.

  28. Joshua08 says:

    “perhaps the same penalty ought to be attached to using the confessional to commit a crime. I’m not talking about a self-imposed one either. I’m talking about a public one.”- catholicmidwest

    What exactly do you have in mind? The crime of solicitation…well the 1962 document precisely established a very secretive trial process to deal with that. But in this case, Fr. Bissey did not use the confessional in order to commit a crime. So you are in effect attacking the seal, if I understand you correctly. You are saying those who commit such and such a crime, and confess but do not publicly turn themselves in should be excommunicated publicly. Well that is just nonsense, as there would be absolutely no way to give evidence without breaking the seal and again even the cases where a confessor can make a real requirement before absolution which involves more or less public knowledge of the penitent’s sin is extremely rare. If I murder someone, the priest may exhort me to turn myself in, but I need not to in order to be absolved—unless say I framed someone else who would otherwise be punished in my stead.

    “Wasn’t it shown above that there is an obligation to confidentiality on the part of clergy, psychotherapists, and legal counsel?”

    That doesn’t address Jamie at all. He is precisely look at what morality demands, not what American secular law thinks about it. I don’t agree with him…he is breaking the line with indirect revelation. But still

  29. richmondtom says:

    Here’s the law in Virginia, which broadly protects penitent-pastor communications:

    “No regular minister, priest, rabbi or accredited practitioner over the age of eighteen years, of any religious organization or denomination usually referred to as a church, shall be required in giving testimony as a witness in any criminal action to disclose any information communicated to him by the accused in a confidential manner, properly entrusted to him in his professional capacity and necessary to enable him to discharge the functions of his office according to the usual course of his practice or discipline, where such person so communicating such information about himself or another is seeking spiritual counsel and advice relative to and growing out of the information so imparted.” (§ 19.2-271.3)

    But if the Church keeps treating with kid gloves priests who commit crimes and bishops who cover for them, I would not be surprised to see a movement to pare down a broad statute like this. My own view is that the privilege should only extend to the actual sacramental confession. Of course, in a pluralistic society, a law like this has to be drafted to include “minister”-penitent communications that do not include what we recognize as sacramental confession.

  30. dcs says:

    I believe it’s an automatic excommunication for a priest to divulge a confession; perhaps the same penalty ought to be attached to using the confessional to commit a crime. I’m not talking about a self-imposed one either. I’m talking about a public one.

    How might one do that without breaking the seal?

  31. Allan S. says:

    Bottom Line: As the confessional seal goes, so goes the Church. Crack that, and we’re just a bunch of guys in silly hats.

    No exceptions. No compromise. No clever “outs”. If you’ll excuse the expression, “this is the hill you die on”.