Is it necessary for someone who committed murder to turn himself in to the authorities?

For him to be truly forgiven, is it necessary?

This is of course assuming that he is truly sorry for what he has committed, vows never to do it again, and has already gone to confession.

Those who are truly sorry accept responsibility for their actions. Failing to turn one’s self in for a criminal act is not accepting responsiblity for the act.

Likely if one were to confess to a priest, absolution would not be provided until you do penance and in all liklihood that penance would include turning oneself in.

Someone is suffering as a result of those actions.

First off, let’s be clear a priest cannot directly order any penitent to turn themselves into the police. that would be a breach of the seal of the confessional. They can certainly suggest or advise it though.

If, based on the overall contents of the confession (including the wish not to turn themselves in) the priest is convinced that the pentitent isn’t truly sorry for their sins, they can refuse absolution, but even this doesn’t amount to a requirement that someone turn themselves into the police.

I would hope that in such a case a priest would work with the penitent to find some other way of making restitution for their sins - perhaps by the penitent anonymously (via the priest) offering financial or other help to the victim’s family or the like. It goes without saying that someone who has murdered should at least seek counselling or (if necessary) psychiatric help as well. Psychiatrists are bound by confidentiality as priests are.

I stand corrected. It isn’t something I would know about in regards to the priest.

However–one cannot be truly sorry if they wish to continue hiding from responsibility. Confession or not.

I honestly don’t think it is anything the church (or this board) can answer if a priest can’t make the murderer turn themselves in.

No they are not. I know this not as opinion, but as fact. It even says in any release you sighn with a psychologist, and you always have to sighn something, that they are obligated by law to report it. That’s why so many people don’t go to psychologists, it isn’t confidential.
I’ve been railing for years against the conflict of interest there ; a social scientist AND a police informant. I shouldn’t have to explain the conflict in that.

Responsibility comes in many forms. And one can often meet one’s responsibilities in numerous different ways. I dont’ think one form (turning oneself in to the police) is correct in every circumstance.

Imagine turning oneself into the police, say, for a murder committed under the influence of drugs at the age of 16, when one is 50 and has been sober for 30 years. It might very well be entirely counter-productive and achieve nothing in terms of healing the penitent’s relationship with God or anyone else. And there may be other concerns - what if the murderer is a sole parent? Should the pain and loss the children would go through not be considered? What right does a priest have to inflict such punishment on innocent children?

Financial support to the victim’s family, on the other hand, or other forms of restitution, are not shirking one’s responsiblity to right the wrong, and might well achieve more in the long run.

I’m Australian, not American, so the system may well be different here. I’ve used psychiatrists and psychologists, and never had to sign such a release as you speak of.

And while I know there are some cases (such as child abuse) where they are obligated to report, I don’t know that other crimes such as murder, especially if committed in the past, are obliged to be reported. But then I could be entirely wrong, apologies if I am.

No problem. Yep, it is different here in the U.S.
What’s really funny is they SAY it’s confidential.
That is, they won’t tell the penniless, powerless, guy down the street your problems.
But who cares whether he knows or not ?
State interest in your problems though…now that’s scary.
Anyone who didn’t fear that would be crazy . :smiley:

Thank you for all your replies!!

Thanks for your reply LilyM. On the second paragraph quoted above, wouldn’t that simply lead to the criminal shopping around for a priest who wouldn’t require him to turn himself in as a requisite before absolution? Also, if turning one’s self in wouldn’t be necessary, wouldn’t that thought make most, if not all Catholics run away or at least hide from the arms of the civil law since it is not necessary to surrender to be forgiven? Wouldn’t that almost certainly lead to the lowering of respect of the civil law which is supposed to protect the peace and order of a community?

But if it would be the criminal’s or the priest’s opinion how responsibilities could be best met, what then is left of the power of the civil law? Aren’t we also obliged by our faith to follow it (assuming of course that they are not contrary to good morals)?

The relevance of , " the power of the civil law " is ?

You, yourself, added the caveat, " assuming of course that they are not contrary to good morals. "

Are we talking about right and wrong here ?

Or about how one appears to ones neighbors?

or is this political science?

If you have time, go spend some time in a court room. Then go spend some time in a jail.

95% of what you hear on this subject, like 95% of what you see on TV, is shear make-believe. Go SEE it for yourself. That should clear up the question completely.

Civil law and moral law are different (but related) matters.

If the person has been absolved in confession and done the penance assigned by the priest, then the sin is forgiven. That’s what our faith teaches about the Sacrament of Confession.

The Sacrament of Confession means that God forgave the sin, BUT the person may still face punishment/purification for the sin either in this life or the next. In addition to the Sacraments, we also believe in Purgatory. God may still send someone with confessed sin, especially “imperfectly confessed” sins, to purgatory for purification of the soul before entering heaven. Purgatory is infinately better than hell, yet may still involve pain of some type. As I understand about purgatory through writings by mystical saints, it’s much easier to do “purgatory” on earth to purge ourselves from our attachments to sin than it is after death. A criminal who turns himself/herself into civil authorities and faces punishment for sins will likely lessen the process of purgation by beginning it on earth.


Also… if the penitant is aware that some innocent person languishes away in jail, falsely accused of the same murder, leaving an innocent person to take the blame would be a different sin beyond the murder.

I don’t really understand what you’re saying here. I work in forensics, so I go to court & most often I’m behind the scenes at the laboratory with the evidence of guilt or innocence. Yes, reality and TV are far removed from one another. However, the basic tenets of truth, justice, and morality remain the same - regardless of public perception.

In previous replies you seem to imply that private restitution would suffice. Regardless of whether the perpetrator was 16 & under the influence of drugs, or 35 and clear minded, the victim is still just as dead. Regardless of whether the perpetrator is now a loving single parent, they still killed someone. The moral law, as well as civil law, says atonment must be made. By Church/moral law we are required to follow civil law. The caveat ‘as long as they are not against moral law’ does nothing to weaken the requirement to follow civil law, instead it gives us the ability to morally object to certain immoral laws (for instance, the one-child law in China). However, civil law, as it pertains to murder, is definitely not against the moral law. Even capital punishment is not against the moral law, although it can be debated by both sides.

Bottom line is this IMO - the murderer should go to Confession and then turn themselves in to civil authorities. Its important to have God’s forgiveness, but that does not remove the necessity for atonement through the civil law system. After many years, even w/ a direct confession, prosecution would likely push for a plea bargain (getting witnesses from a historic case is horribly difficult). However, civil atonement should be made.

Uh huh - which would be relevant IF it were a legal requirement for someone who has committed a crime to turn themselves into police. But it isn’t. Quite the opposite - on many occasions there’s the privilege AGAINST self-incrimination available, which allows one to avoid admitting to a crime. So the framers of the law don’t take the attitude that everyone who commits a crime has in every circumstance to fess up, quite the opposite.

Certainly the law stipulates that certain behaviours are considered crimes and, if someone is found guilty in court, punishable in certain ways. But there’s no law on the books that says anything to the effect of ‘someone who has committed a murder/theft/arson is obligated to present themselves forthwith at the nearest police station to be charged’.

So one isn’t disobeying the law in any way by failing to turn themselves in. Of course one can’t lie to the police to avoid justice, or bribe the jury at one’s trial, or do anything like that, but those are unrelated to turning oneself in.

I was just reading another thread about lawyers who offer to write wills for unmarried couples. Certainly in some circumstances this could be considered to be encouraging fornication. But on the other hand if the couple already are living together and have children it would be morally wrong NOT to encourage them to make a will providing for those children.

In a similar way, while turning oneself in may in part be restitution for that crime, the sacrament is meant to be a sacrament of healing, administered in a pastoral way and not a merely punitive way.

So the effect, for example, on the penitent’s family needs to be considered in determining what is an appropriate way to make restitution - and if someone turns themselves in for murder it inflicts on their family the hardship of depriving them, for a lengthy time, of a parent/child/sibling, which may have devastating effects. I’m not saying it’s never appropriate, just that it’s not black and white.

Again, a priest cannot obligate a penitent as part of the sacrament to do anything that would betray the penitent in any way, which them turning themselves over to police absolutely would do.

This makes sense to me.

I just want to clarify my POV. By continuing to “lie” to the victim and their family, one is still actively sinning whether or not the initial crime is “forgiven” in the eyes of God.

But as LilyM points out, we have the right to remain silent. However–that doesn’t mean that it is morally correct nor forgivable if one is actively engaging that right which is “lying”.

By “privately” or “secretly” paying restitution to a family–that is pure torture. I can’t see a family going–okay now…“we lost our love one, but the secret murderer is really sorry as we can see by this attemp to buy our silence.”

I just can’t see how someone can live a secret life if they are “TRULY” sorry.

Lying by omission is still an lie and thus a sin that the person in this scenario is actively engaging in without remorse.

You’re completely correct that no one is required to turn themselves in. That’s not what I was saying was against the law. The original crime is against the law & since we are morally obligated to follow laws, we should also be morally obligated to ‘fess up’ for our legal mis-steps - especially in an instane of murder. At least that’s the way I see it.

Could a priest really require such a person to turn themselves in to the police as a penance? I think that would violate the seal of the confessional.

Uh … someone who says they didn’t murder is lying. Someone who keeps silent is not lying. Even the Catechism distinguishes between telling an untruth and keeping silence. This can be seen by its statements in terms of untruths never being moral but silence sometimes being not only permissible but the right and charitable thing to do. The Catechism even outright states something to the effect that some persons have NO RIGHT to the truth in some situations!

That’s why calumny and detraction, gossip and slander are sins, even if the things you say are true.

But as LilyM points out, we have the right to remain silent. However–that doesn’t mean that it is morally correct nor forgivable if one is actively engaging that right which is “lying”.

As I said, it would be relevant if the murderer were claiming not to be a murderer, which they aren’t.

By “privately” or “secretly” paying restitution to a family–that is pure torture. I can’t see a family going–okay now…“we lost our love one, but the secret murderer is really sorry as we can see by this attemp to buy our silence.”

Buy silence? :confused: Who mentioned buying silence here? It’s not like the money (or whatever other help) is conditional on the victims not seeking legal redress, or that the murderer is asking the victims to keep silent about the crime. It’s not like anyone is asking them to not attempt to have the murderer caught and punished or anything that could possibly be construed as buying silence :shrug:

I just can’t see how someone can live a secret life if they are “TRULY” sorry.

We all keep secrets every day - and we tell half-truths or keep polite silence every day too. Do even your closest family and friends know every single sin that you’ve ever committed since the year dot, or ever mentioned in the confessional? Do you tell your husband that yes you hate his Christmas present? Even if he asks and even if you really do think it’s awful? I doubt it!

Lying by omission is still an lie and thus a sin that the person in this scenario is actively engaging in without remorse.

No the two are very different. Again, read the catechism on truth and lying and you’ll see. One is permitted to omit information in certain circumstances without it being morally wrong. Withholding information can sometimes be done for good reason - for example to save a life (and in this case you might be wanting to save the lives of the murderer’s family who might be destroyed if they admit their crime).

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