Seal of the confessional = Sharia law

In the context of the child abuse investigation.
Help me rebut.
I know it’s a stupid comparison but I can’t put the words together that will help a person who has no concept of what the sacrament of confession actually is understand.

They are nothing alike.

To explain the seal of the confessional to a non-believer, you might phrase it as “A stricter version of patient-client privileged that cannot be legally broken.”

As to their role in the child abuse scandal, the priests who did not report it were performing their priestly duty. I’d imagine that in most cases they encouraged the confessing party to seek help and to report their behavior; at this point it becomes the choice of the offending party as to whether or not they take the confessor’s advice and seek absolution. The priest is duty-bound not to divulge what was said in the confessional, to do so would violate their role in operating “in persona Christi.”

In addition, I never heard of requiring a defense lawyer to out his guilty client. Looks like they want a double standard for priests. :mad:

Well, let’s be fair. The priest-penitent privilege is much more analagous to the doctor-patient privilege (specifically, the subset of counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists) than it is to the attorney-client privilege. The attorney-client privilege exists because you can’t have a fair trial if the other side gets to subpoena your lawyer and ask “Tell the jury everything your client has told you about this case.”

In contrast, the priest-penitent privilege and doctor-patient privilege exist to encourage truthfulness on the part of the penitent and patient, because telling the truth to the priest or doctor facilitates the healing process. No offense to those professions, but the structural argument for privilege isn’t quite as strong (because, even if the priest or doctor did have to testify about you later, you would still have the incentive to tell the truth so that you get proper healing).

That being said, even the attorney-client privilege contains an exception for future crimes; lawyers are required to tell the authorities if they know their clients are about to commit a crime. And the same is true for doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other members of the healing professions: if you know that your patient is going to attack someone, you have an affirmative duty to warn that person (or the authorities, or what have you).

So the priest-penitent privilege as understood by the Catholic Church is radically different in that regard. We contend that anyone going through the Sacrament of Reconciliation has an absolute privilege that cannot be waived by the priest under any circumstances, even under the “I’m sorry I planted a huge bomb in a fully-occupied stadium” scenario. On the other hand, we also contend that anyone not going through the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not have that privilege – even though state law often contains a broader privilege than does canon law (e.g., in many states, the priest-penitent privilege applies to anyone “seeking spiritual guidance” from a recognized superior in that person’s church, etc. – which is a lot broader than the seal of the confessional).

Bottom line, though: the seal of the confessional is not the same as sharia law. For one thing, the priest-penitent privilege applies to all religions in this country (which is why in the U.S. it’s usually called the “clergy-penitent privilege”): depending on the specifics of state law, everyone can claim a privilege as to certain types of consultations with their religious superiors. For another, adopting a good idea that is found in one religious belief system is not the same as adopting that religious system wholesale. The Catholic Church was running around saying “murder is wrong” and “theft is wrong” long before the U.S. came into being; but it’s still okay for the U.S. to ban murder and theft.

In my parish, a priest could not possibly disclose anyone’s sins. Because he doesn’t see them. He doesn’t know who they are. The confession lines are often lengthy. And if you asked him five minutes after hearing confessions which sins had been confessed, he wouldn’t remember.

That’s all well and good, but I still think there is a double standard when it comes to priests.

I find it makes the best sense explained this way. If priests were allowed/required/encouraged to report criminal activities, NOBODY would confess them. So the end result of such a policy is that whack jobs keep it bottled up and keep committing crime without getting help.

The current policy establishes a safe environment for people who still have a conscience and realize that they need help to GET help without being worried that the act of getting help will get them caught.

In short, the seal of confession allows priests to help criminals and can only reduce the long term incidence of crime in society. Abolishing that seal would make things worse, not better. Which is why we HAVE it!

This is actually one of those things about the catholic church that demonstrates Divine intervention. Humanity reviles the church both for being too judgemental AND for offering too much mercy to sinners. You gotta love it.

Those who argue that it is wrong to keep the seal intact for priests, but want it to stay for lawyers and psychologists are just secularists trying to push catholicism out of the public square.

Just a personal thought, perhaps an unconventional one. The uncompromising confidentiality from the priest and the penitent in not disclosing the sin confessed to a third party is because this all about confessing to God and about judgment. God alone judges; it’s God’s realm and jurisdiction, we humans have no say in it. The implication of disclosing what is happening in the confessional is like interfering in God’s scope of work because of unconsciously there would be comments that will arise, either rightly or wrongly, but one that is not for us to say and to make.

That’s the scared nature of the particular Sacrament. It is God’s at work on judgment (not condemnation) of a personal transgression. It is between man and God, and God’s alone, lest we forget. We are not to take that role and the best thing for that to happen is for us not to know about it. ;):stuck_out_tongue:

What’s the double standard? Priests are the only ones we contend are not required to report future crimes. Lawyers, doctors, psychologists, counselors, etc. are all required to call the police when they know their client/patient/etc. is going to hurt someone else. Priests are the only ones saying that they shouldn’t have to do so. If society wants to challenge that, it isn’t society following a double standard; it’s priests demanding an exception to the norm.

That’s not what’s happening. Lawyers and psychologists are required to report when there’s danger to others. Priests are the ones demanding an exception to that rule.

And the argument you make about disincentivizing sinners from talking to priests is the same argument that psychiatrists and psychologists made and lost. Society demands that they report anyway. So we’re the ones demanding an exception to the normal rule.

Would this be the same society that allows the murder of our own posterity merely for the sake of convenience? Spare me.

Spare you what? We’re arguing in favor of the Catholic Church’s position: priests should be afforded the protection of the privilege, notwithstanding society’s position with respect to other professions.

I’m just saying let’s make the correct argument based on the actual facts, not one based on a misguided fallacy about what other privileges apply and under what conditions.

What is your reference for this? I think we are talking about two different scenarios here … priests not divulging past sins vs. lawyers, etc. divulging “when they know their client/patient/etc. is going to hurt someone else.”

What is your reference for this?

Heh. This might take a while.

Psychologists disclose confidential information without the consent of the individual only as mandated by law, or where permitted by law for a valid purpose such as to (1) provide needed professional services; (2) obtain appropriate professional consultations; (3) protect the client/patient, psychologist, or others from harm; or (4) obtain payment for services from a client/patient, in which instance disclosure is limited to the minimum that is necessary to achieve the purpose. (See also Standard 6.04e, Fees and Financial Arrangements.)

American Psychological Association, Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct Standard 4.05(b).

In fact, the law does (in most states) go beyond an ethical permission to report; it’s required.

“The public policy favoring protection of the confidential character of patient-psychotherapist communications must yield to the extent to which disclosure is essential to avert danger to others. ***The protective privilege ends where the public peril begins.***”

Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976).

A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm;

(2) to prevent the client from committing a crime or fraud that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services;
(3) to prevent, mitigate or rectify substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another that is reasonably certain to result or has resulted from the client’s commission of a crime or fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services;
. . . .
(6) to comply with other law or a court order; . . . .

American Bar Association, Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6(b).

There are similar provisions in other health-care professions’ codes as well.

Now, mind you: these are just the private organizations’ codes of conduct (not Tarasoff; that’s state law). What makes them binding is each state’s adoption of these or similar provisions. But most states have, in fact, adopted these rules as binding on their respective professions.

Another thing running around this issue is the adoption of “mandatory reporting” laws, which involve not just feared future abuse, but past acts of abuse as well. Here’s a website that discusses the issue:

Approximately 48 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands designate professions whose members are mandated by law to report child maltreatment. Individuals designated as mandatory reporters typically have frequent contact with children. Such individuals may include:

Social workers
Teachers and other school personnel
Physicians and other health-care workers
Mental health professionals
Child care providers
Medical examiners or coroners
Law enforcement officers
Some other professions frequently mandated across the States include commercial film or photograph processors (in 11 States, Guam, and Puerto Rico), substance abuse counselors (in 14 States), and probation or parole officers (in 17 States). Seven States and the District of Columbia include domestic violence workers on the list of mandated reporters, while seven States and the District of Columbia include animal control or humane officers. Court-appointed special advocates are mandatory reporters in nine States. Members of the clergy now are required to report in 26 States.

All of the above have to report both feared future abuse and suspected past abuse. In fact, you can read about clergy as being mandatory reporters in summary form here (some states list clergy as mandatory reporters; some list “any person” (which, obviously, includes clergy); some make exceptions for certain types of pastoral counseling; some don’t.

The exception for lawyers is that they only have to report feared future abuse. They do not have to report past abuse that is admitted to them confidentially in the course of seeking legal advice, because otherwise the defendants couldn’t get fair trials. But, other than that one exception, there are no privileges of which I am aware that allow professional counselors to maintain the confidence of reported child abuse (whether sexual or otherwise).

The Catholic Church is advocating a special exception for religious ministers. I happen to agree that it should be granted. But let’s not pretend that we’re asking for the same thing everyone else has. That simply isn’t true.

The Church vs. the State. There is no way the Church will acquiesce to this. It is tantamount to breaking the priestly vow and besides, priests are not paid by the state. This is strictly religious matter. I doubt the state will be able to make this stick – to force priests to reveal confessed sins.

Had there been cases where the state mentioned, New Hampshire and West Virginia, successfully able to have priests reporting this? Under what law that the state can do this?

Back to the original question: yes, I think this is an issue parallel with the desire of some Muslims to practice Shari’a law among themselves (obviously not with the desire of other Muslims to impose it on society as a whole). In other words, as I have said a number of times before, Rowan Williams was right and the conservative Christians (including Catholics) who attacked him for “advocating Shari’a” were extremely short-sighted.


I try to keep my message as simple and clear as possible.

In the Church, we care for all, especially those who might have been abused by those in leadership roles. Nevertheless, the Church is in the “soul” business, not in the Justice Department, and though men are capable of great evils, God wants them to repent and be saved at any cost. I, personally, want every man, woman, and child, in heaven. The seal of confession promises the only spiritual healing/revival of one’s soul.

I recently changed my view on the death penalty for the same “soul” business view. I once was pro-death penalty because I figured the person on death row would have alone-time, not be in gangs in the main population, and can get weekly spiritual needs fulfilled, and be prepared for God’s heavenly glory. Where I went wrong was that, though these are good intentions, I forgot about the vengence and hatred and fear being fed to all those who are wanting the criminal to die. I realized that many more souls were at stake through their desire to see a man die.

Sorry, went off-topic I think, but I believe the “soul” business is the highest business. God bless!

Even in societies that do not honor the separation of Church and state, priests are not allowed to divulge anything said in the confessional under any circumstances.

If something is a “matter of public record,” a lawyer is not bound by confidentiality.

Yes, it’s called “lawyer-client privileges” and it’s protected under law to ensure the accused can receive a fair trial by being able to reveal everything to his lawyer in confidence in order for the lawyer to prepare and represent his client to the best of his ability protecting his rights.

Under common law, spouses can also not be forced to testify under oath against each other.

From a legal perspective, it makes very little sense to require a priest to break the seal of confession. It’s not enough to lay a charge, let alone get a conviction. It’s hearsay. Furthermore, assuming it’s an anonymous confession the priest really has nothing to report aside from " some person, possibly a male, confessed to molesting a child one time". Great. How many people, possibly male, are there whom that could have been??

Priests have died over refusing to break the seal. I can’t see them breaking the seal even if some dumb law is made that requires them to. Also, the odds of getting jail time over something like this, especially in a country like Australia, where their justice system is based mainly on restorative justice rather than a punitive mode; is slim to none.

“Future Crimes”? You my friend make no sense.

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