Priest-Penitent Privilege?

You never had a chat with the Holy Office c. 1700, did you ?

Because this is a formalized system, and people aren’t going to use it if they are going to be snitched upon. I do not admire Confession, and until the present Pope excommunicated the Italian/Sicilian Mafias a few years ago — as his feebler predecessors had not — it did not seem to stop the wretched brutes from continuing bad things.

And I don’t know that any of this is much of a privilege: I’ve read of priests being sick and bothered at the relentless catalogue of ( petty ) crime from our ordinary fellows.

Back in pre-internet days I would hazard a guess some people got a kick out of confessing utterly banal and revolting details of their sex-lives to a celibate.

Sure. Indeed, you can make the case that by privileging religion over more secular modes of counsel and guidance, we as a society are actually making a choice: we’re not establishing a particular religion, but we’re establishing a preference for religion (of whatever stripe) over non-religion.

But unfortunately for holders of this view, it’s so entrenched that changing it in any substantial way won’t happen any time soon, in my opinion.

It strengthens the country. Every truly religious person is going to obey their religion and not the state if they are in conflict. So by trying to minimize the conflict between the obligations of religion and the state, the government has more people who are loyal to it.

That seems a little off. Like it should have been a hearsay issue, instead. At least wrt the priest’s putative testimony.

I’m also unclear on the Church’s stance on whether the seal of the confessional should prevent a victim’s allegation from triggering mandatory reporting.

In that context, the priest’s testimony would not be hearsay as it is not offered “for the truth of the matter asserted.”

IOW, it matters not whether the 14 year old’s allegation of abuse was true (in the context of that case) but what the priest did by failing/not failing to report it.

Not hearsay.

I know that this can be a complicated concept, but here’s part of a post I wrote some time back that might be helpful:

The Church’s stance is consistent with secular law: it does.

And we have no particular reason to want to give criminals the opportunity to “unburden themselves” risk-free.

It’s not really up to ‘us’.
And most ordinary people aren’t ipso facto criminals — whose crimes against the state are simply so far undiscovered — outside the great People’s Republic regimes.
Neither outside such idyllically idealist republics is the profession of secret informer honoured and admired.

Speak for yourself.

A person finds out about horrific, ongoing child abuse.

That person reports it to the police.

Is that person to be commended or admired?

That person does not report it to the police.

Is that person to be commended or admired?

If I discovered a paedophile ring I would openly, not secretly, tell the police. Same with a dog-fighting ring. But these would have to be ongoing and future. Anything previous is not my concern.

Similarly with murdering: a few hours ago I discovered the case of the Green River Killer, a man who may have killed over 90 women and brutalized the bodies. To suggest one should not help capture such as he would be absurd. Then again I would not grant him my confidence, let alone my absolution; so it’s rather moot.

This is not a perfect world.

Anything that comes under the label of utmost shame — not presently hurting others physically or emotionally
— that should embarrass the perp for eternity will not be revealed by me, particularly if revealed in confidence; like embezzlement, bestiality, being republican, bed-wetting or having shot a man in Reno in the past.

This is not my business, and unlike the Catholic Church I have no interest in saving the souls of the damned.

Indeed not, I’m pretty much in line with where you would draw the boundary as I think it is where any reasonable person would draw it.

My main problem has always been, and remains, any suggestion that priests or other religious figures get some special allowance to keep quiet in all circumstances.

You’re not thinking it through.

How does the person find out?

If the answer is, “Because he’s a religious counselor, and learned the information in the course of a private, privileged conversation,” then surely you can understand that the reason he learned it is because the abuser shared it voluntarily, confident of secrecy.

And if that framework changes – if the religious counselor is permitted to breach the confidence – then why would the abuser share it in the first place?

Do you understand?

No need of the condescending tone Bricker, I’m not four.

Confident of a secrecy that is absolute to a degree not seen in any other area? I do not think that is acceptable. A religious body should not be given that leeway when we don’t give it in any other area. I believe it is permissible even for a lawyer to disclose if his client is going to commit a crime, why not also for a priest?

The question of whether it gets shared in the first place is irrelevant.

But we actually do give more leeway to others than I think you realize. First, you’ve confused me a bit. Are you talking about 1) the priest/minister/rabbi reporting that the penitent is planning to commit a future crime or 2) about the communication being privileged and therefore the priest/minister/rabbi not testifying about the plans at the trial after the crime occurs?

If you are talking about the first situation, lots of people are not compelled to report crimes, even horrific, ongoing child abuse. I am a mandated reporter in my state, so you would think that I am required to report child abuse or neglect. And I am - but only in situations that come before me in my professional role. If my neighbor tells me he is abusing a child or children, I have no obligation to report it. *Your state may be different- but lots of states are like mine, where there is no general duty to report any crime.

If you are talking about the second situation, where the crime has already occurred and you are looking for someone to testify at the trial , there are other privileged relationships. There’s the spousal communications privilege which means that one spouse cannot be forced to testify against the other about marital communications (and in some cases means the spouse cannot testify even if he or she wants to ). There are exceptions, but those exceptions generally apply to cases where one spouse has committed a crime against the other spouse or against a child of the other spouse or where the two spouses acted jointly in the commission of a crime. Therefore, if my husband told me he had abused some other child (not mine), he might be able to prevent me from testifying even if I want to. There’s doctor -patient privilege and therapist -client privilege. Some places have parent-child privilege and some even have accountant-client privilege. Sure, they all have exceptions- but so does the priest- penitent privilege. It doesn’t simply cover any conversation a person might have with a priest/minister/rabbi.

  • Of course I would- but what I would do is an entirely different question from what the law requires me to do.

This has been bugging me, so I’m going to ask- What was the point of wanting the priest to testify about the confession? I means presumably, the girl testified about what she said, and if the priest refuses to testify about the confession, then her testimony is the only testimony about what was said.

I don’t know how old you are but I see that you still aren’t seeing the point.

If “Bad Communication X,” is subject to an exception, and the priest can reveal it, then the penitent won’t convey “Bad Communication X.” So the policy won’t result in the disclosure of X, regardless of whether it’s an exception or not.

You also don’t quite correctly summarize the crime/fraud exception for lawyers, but we’ll leave that for another time to avoid muddying the issue.

The girl can’t testify about what was said.

The reason: the suit alleged that the priest negligently failed to report the abuse to law enforcement.

The defense argued that the penitent’s testimony was not relevant, because the priest was not a mandated reporter, so he couldn’t breach a duty to report that didn’t exist. And the courts agreed: a priest who learns information under the seal of confession is not a mandated reporter.

In other words, her testimony would be offered for the purpose of proving she communicated the abuse to him. But since he can’t be sued for failing to report it, there’s no issue of fact that her testimony helps to make clear.

See, I got confused by the use of the word “testify” in your post. I thought that would imply a courtroom situation where hearsay doctrine would apply.

It feels more germane to note that secular law is consistent with the Church’s stance. :wink:

It is a courtroom situation, and the hearsay doctrine applies.

But the hearsay doctrine’s application is: this testimony is not hearsay.

I know it sounds like it would be hearsay. But “hearsay” can be a tricky concept. It doesn’t just mean testimony about a statement that was originally uttered outside court.

“Hearsay” means that there was a statement made by someone outside court, and now someone wants to testify in court about what was said, AND the reason they want to do that is so the jury will believe that the out of court statement is the truth.

It’s the second part, past the “…AND…” that gets confusing. In this case, someone wants to testify about a statement, but not to prove that the statement’s claims were true. Instead, they just want to prove that the statement was actually said.

That’s not hearsay.