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AmericanWolf December 19th, 2016 11:04pm

In the Catholic Church, priests are forbidden to disclose any information they may learn during confession. If a man goes to church and confesses to planning a serious crime, should the priest be held legally accountable in any way for not reporting?

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SupremeDolphin They.them
12/22/16 1:42 pm

They should do what they can to stop the crime, even if it means breaking the confidence. However I don't think there should be legal consequences unless it is demonstrated that he was complicit in the crime.

12/20/16 11:20 pm

I think the priests can make that call for themselves. They shouldn't be policing it at all or report anything after the fact. Only if they know for a fact the person is going to kill at any moment

RussianThunder Russia and USA
12/19/16 5:47 pm

In Russia, the orthodox priests must go to the police if the person plans to kill or do harm to someone. Not if the crime has already taken place but if it is about to.

If he confesses he carried out a horrible crime, I don't know what they do. I'm not Orthodox.

Zfilakas Eleftheria i Thanatos
12/19/16 5:58 pm

Orthodox priests are the same way. You cannot disclose information confessed to you.

-I am Orthodox

12/19/16 8:32 pm

I know for Catholic priest at least, they is no exception whatsoever, everything said in the sacrament must be kept secret. See my reply to below comments for more.

Source: I am a Catholic priest.

missmorganmarie ...
12/19/16 4:46 pm

I thought a priest had to go to the police with that kind of information.

@MrMilkdud thoughts?

12/19/16 4:51 pm

In most places, priests who hear things in the confessional are protected by a type of client confidentiality similar to a therapist or lawyer.
However, priests are also not obligated to forgive sins, and usually the priest will tell the person to turn themselves in and that they'll hear their confession once they've done so.

12/19/16 5:05 pm

Maybe so but therapists and lawyers are required by law to report anything they learn about someone planning to harm themselves or others.

BenBismont A state of some confusion
12/19/16 5:18 pm

Priests are not required, but to clarify you should ask @RCPriest

12/19/16 7:52 pm

Another issue is that confessions are often anonymous, meaning the priest can't even see the person confessing, so even if they were ordered to testify, and violated Church law by doing so, they would be an unreliable witness.

12/19/16 8:25 pm

A priest cannot reveal anything told in confession for any reason whatsoever. Doing so would mean the priest loses the right to hear confession and may even be stripped of his priesthood. So a good priest who go to jail before he would allow a court to coerce him to testifying about what was said in confession.

The reason is the salvation of souls is the church's key mission, if a murder who is repentant thinks he would be arrested if he sought the sacrament of confession he may not go to the sacrament and then his soul may go unsaved. Less extreme example: would you confess adultery if the priest could tell your spouse.

Another reason, the priest is acting "in the person of Christ" so the priest has no right to reveal what a person is actually confessing to Christ.

12/19/16 8:27 pm

Also, a priest is not allowed to make forgiveness of sins dependent on the person revealing their sin to another person. If the priest thinks the person is repentant (sorry) then the priest is to offer forgiveness. They priest can suggest a person confess to legal authorities but cannot require it as a condition of absolution (absolution = technical term for forgiveness of sin).

12/19/16 8:32 pm

Fr, if you don't mind, I have a couple of questions. What if a person tells you during confession that they are planning on doing something horrible? I've had priests give me conflicting answers on that. One said that it isn't protected because it hasn't happened yet, but every other priest I've asked has said that everything that is said in confession is protected.

Also, have you been affected by new laws reclassifying clergy as people in positions with a duty to report child abuse and related crimes?

12/19/16 8:34 pm

Also, regarding your second comment, is that specified somewhere? Not challenging you, but I've been told the opposite by other priests who say that it is appropriate to refuse to forgive someone who has not turned themselves in because failing to do so shows that they are not repentant.

12/19/16 8:37 pm

Again, I'm not challenging you on it- I was taught in grad school that priests can't require the individual to do anything that would reveal what they've said in confession, and but I've heard from so many priests that they would withhold absolution until the person turned themselves in that I guess I assumed my profs had it wrong.

12/19/16 8:43 pm

First the new laws do not apply to confession but do apply to priest in every other situation. I always make that clear to my students, if they tell me outside confession they are being abused, or plan to hurt themselves I must report it (and sadly have had to do so on several occasions), in confessions I cannot report it, even if I want to. I would in the confessional encourage the person to talk to me about it later outside the sacrament.

As for things that haven't happened yet being revealed in confession, it doesn't matter, if it is revealed in the context of the sacrament it is protected. Again they are no exceptions, I use extreme examples to get this across to my students. You confess you are a mass murder, I cannot say anything. You confess you planted a a bomb downtown, I cannot say anything. There are literally no exceptions to the seal of confession. I personally hope I would have the courage to face imprisonment rather than violate the seal of the confessional.

12/19/16 8:47 pm

I don't have the sources on me now, but I know priest aren't allowed to set conditions on forgiveness other than he person being sorry. They priest may say they don't believe you are sorry if you haven't turned yourself in, but they cannot say "I will only forgive you if you turn yourself in first."

I personally believe someone could be sorry for a crime without being willing to turn themselves in for it. Being sorry and being willing to except the consequences of an action are not exactly the same thing.

12/19/16 8:47 pm

... are not the same thing.

12/19/16 8:53 pm

So in your opinion is it illicit for a priest to withhold absolution because they believe that someone is not genuinely sorry unless they have turned themselves in?

12/19/16 9:02 pm

It's complicated, I would it illicit to withhold
absolution for any reason other than person not showing contrition.

Personally I believe setting an external action like revealing a crime as a perquisite of being contrite is problematic. Should a priest require a husband to tell his wife he cheated before he forgives him? Or an employ to admit to stealing office supplies before he forgives the person? What about other crimes? Should a priest only forgive a former drug dealer if they turn themselves in? How about a crime like reckless driving and speeding? Should they need to report that to police first?

No setting any external action as indication of contrition is highly problematic. For the most part, if the person says they are sorry and will attempt to not repeat he sin, the priest should offer absolution. If they aren't truly sorry, then the priest absolution isn't effective and they aren't forgiven.

12/19/16 9:04 pm

Anyway I am off to bed, I will check this again tomorrow and try an answer any more questions tomorrow when I have time (between trying to teaching classes full of HS freshman waiting for a Christmas break to start).

12/19/16 9:06 pm

Ok, thanks. Like I said, I'm not challenging anything you've said, I've just heard conflicting opinions on it, and I think both sides have good points.
I'll just be sure not to commit any felonies and that pretty much solves the problem on my end.
Thanks for your answers!

12/19/16 9:07 pm

On last quick comment: as a priest I always err on the side i'd showing mercy and forgiving. If you not truly sorry and I was tricked by you, you didn't really gain anything because the sacrament only is efficacious if you are sorry.

12/19/16 9:07 pm

You're welcome: Goodnight and God Bless.

Carcano Matthew 10 34
12/19/16 4:24 pm

No. That's the point. I have heard of instances where Priests would point the police in that man's direction without actually saying anything that he confessed. They would just say "Hey check that guy out".

bluerum29 optimistic idealist
12/19/16 4:17 pm

I would say they should have to if I could prevent the crime from happening. How could they live with themselves if they dont.

WorstGooEver Nuke the Hurricanes
12/19/16 5:55 pm

Is it? I thought it could be often considered aiding and abetting.

12/19/16 8:33 pm

As a priest I can tell you it would be tough to live with, but violating the "seal of the confessional" would be harder to live with. That would be defiling the sacred trust established between the priest and people. The people believe everything they confess is between them an God, to break that trust would undermine the faith if every Catholic the secrecy of the confessional, no Catholic would ever be able to trust that their confession is truly secret.

bluerum29 optimistic idealist
12/19/16 8:41 pm

Good thing I don't believe in confessional

WorstGooEver Nuke the Hurricanes
12/20/16 7:38 am

Lol... I think I was trying to reply to someone else.

gow488 Seoul, Korea
12/19/16 4:17 pm

If it's legal for people to stay silent then I don't see why the law should be different for priests.

AmericanWolf For the Benefit of All
12/19/16 4:11 pm

Note: In most places, for most people and most crimes, it's perfectly legal to stay silent so long as you don't act to conceal the crime. Certain "privileged positions" like tharapists, doctors, and teachers, are obligated to break confidentiality for violent crimes. However, in modern law, priests are not required to do the same.