What does it mean to betray a confidence?

Dear Apologist,

I have read that violation of a confidence without good reason is a mortal sin. What does this mean?

I have a question because I was chatting on the internet with a guy, he was asking me for advice (I was in an advice chatroom). We ended up talking for a while and he told me personal things about himself. Some of the things he said were a bit too personal.

I’m engaged and my fiance and I tell each other everything. I want to be able to give my fiance the entire conversation I had with the guy from advice chat. So far I have told my fiance the general things we have discussed, and I told him one specific thing that I thought was important for him to know and say if he was okay with it.

Did I violate the other guy’s confidence? As I was doing it, I was thinking that I might, and I was afraid that I might possibly sin mortally. I prayed and it definitely didn’t feel right to tell details, but I thought telling my fiance the general idea and the one important thing I thought he needed to know.

I feel really bad now and am afraid.

Did I sin?

Unless you were acting in a professional capacity to this person that binds you to confidentiality rules (e.g., therapist) or are otherwise bound by confidentiality rules, you are free to discuss the conversation with your fiance. Generally speaking, anyone who unloads private information to strangers in an Internet chatroom must realize that he is in fact publishing his deepest secrets for public consumption and cannot reasonably be offended if you share them with someone who needs to know (e.g., fiance, spouse, priest).

Betraying a confidence ordinarily means relating private information to someone who does not need to know about it. Some people who act as professional counselors, or who are otherwise restricted by various privacy rules, have a deeper responsibility to maintain the secrecy of the confidences they are told. Priests who hear sins in the confessional are absolutely bound to secrecy.

In ordinary life, most people realize that anything they confide to an engaged or married person is likely to be shared with the fiance or spouse. If a friend asks you to keep a secret and you are not sure she realizes this convention of engaged and married life, you can clarify with her by saying “From everyone?” If she says yes, let her know that you do not feel comfortable hearing confidences that you are not able to discuss with your fiance/husband if it is necessary to do so.

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