Sunday, January 28, 2007

Confession and Counseling

I am currently in the middle of a class called Pastoral Care and Counseling. The question of confidentiality and disclosure recently came up in one of our sessions. Someone mentioned that the pastor should always keep confidentiality with the parishioner unless mandated by State and Federal law. I questioned that assumption based on a Catholic understanding of the confessional. I have a few questions for consideration.

ONE: How different is the confessional space form a counseling session?

TWO: Is the confessional exempt from State and Federally mandate laws? e.g. Do you turn in a person who is confessing his/her struggles of child molestation, that is, he/she is actually doing the acts?

THREE: What is the significance of confessional space?


David Tatum said...

Hey Scott,

1. I think the difference between the conffesional and counseling is that the confessional is a place where people come to confess their sins to a priest and ask for forgivness. They are in a sense coming to pray the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner". The counseling session has much more oppertunity for reasoning, empathy, and advice.
2. The answer to this next question is found in Schwanz response when she said "how willing are you to go to jail?" My answer is i think as Christians we should be much more willing to go to jail for the things we believe in than we currently are. Christians should not fear the nation state. We are not to fear the sword that can put us to death but our creator. I guess you have to ask yourself the question, "what does reporting something to the nation state accomplish?' If it is worth it then it may be a plausable option." But we as Christians unlike the nation state believe that ALL people are redeemable and savable.
3. I think the significance of the confessional is that it provides a space where people can come and confess their sins, where as they might not otherwise to any other person. It should not be used (as our pop culture portrayes it) as an emotional and spiritual trash disposal. But as a true space of confession and repentance, a turning from our ways toward the face of Jesus.

David Tatum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andre said...

I agree with Tatum and you. But I really feel uncomfortable not turning in the confessing pedophile to the authorities. Unlike catholics, i dont see a need to confess our sins to the clergy in order to receive forgiveness, so i dont have the same dependency on it as they do. So roughly said, I dont hold it to be as sacred. But, I do think Christians should start to seriously think about getting arrested just for the heck of it.

David Tatum said...

Andre i agree about the clergy confession, although it can be and is very healthy especially for people who have nobody else who will listen. Maybe we should start a blog for Christians that lists creative ways to challenge and protest the government that will get you arrested! Shane Clayborn in his book "Irrisistable Revolution" talks about that some.

Scott Savage said...

I agree with not giving room for the pedophile to work his or her way through the problem. That was a bit of an extreme example. Pedophilia must be put to an end quickly. I think I agree with you regarding mandatory confession to the clergy. I believe that the priesthood of all believers means just that.

This is a bit broader than confession, but what about issues of illegal immigrants? What if the church decided to reclaim the practice of providing sanctuary?

Shellie said...

Thought-provoking questions.

The Church is in the business of reconciling people with God. The Seal of Confession should be inviolable.

Justice will be done; the Sacrament of Reconciliation however is for the truly penitent to be reconciled to the Body.

The confessional (and those received in professional capacity) is exempt from mandatory reporting. I found many examples of the wording at NewAdvent under the heading: United States.

Scott Savage said...

Would you ever suggest utilizing the state as a means of restraint regarding issues of pedophilia? Perhaps as the state prohibits free social interaction of one with such struggles the Church might be given the time and space for true reconciliation.

I wish the Church of the Nazarene had a more official stance on spatial issues as they relate to confession and sanctuary. Although, I feel ignorant to many of the implications that such space might bring.

Shellie said...


I would not suggest utilizing the state and I wouldn't characterize the Sacrament of Reconciliation as "free social interaction." :)

We must have the freedom to confess our sins; have access to the remedy for our illness (sin). Having the state outside the confessional booth would definitely be a deterrent to confession and reconciliation.

I hear your heart, I think. I am the mother of four and nothing grieves me more than to think of such a one going free. However, the perpetrator would need to be apprehended in some other way than through violating the seal of confession.

I rest in the fact that Justice will one day prevail, and grieve for each and every case where it does not right here right now. Which is why I pray every day "Thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven." So let it be, we pray.

Scott Savage said...


First off, just a bit of clarification. By “free social interaction” I simply meant restraint. Arresting someone definitely prohibits further acts. Also, I am not necessarily advocating this. I am more asking direct question regarding specific situations just to probe the difficulties surrounding the issue.

I am curious to know what other ways you would suggest in apprehending a perpetrator.

Lastly, you are correct that justice will prevail. Perhaps a different way to say that, which might ring a little more close to home for “holiness” people, is that justice will prevail and has prevailed. I constantly live in that tension between the already and the not yet. What does it mean to live into the way of Jesus, to begin to live in the actuality of the kingdom, to live the life of holiness? The kinds of suggestions we come up with for how to handle a situation where the pedophile is still committing the sins is so crucial for witnessing both to the person and the powers.


Shellie said...


I think your probing is an excellent exercise.

Perpetrators should be apprehended in the usual way: getting caught, accusations, suspicions, justice system.

I understand that it is horrifying to realize that a perp is "right here" in the confessional and we can't get him. I understand that. But the remedy is not to violate the seal.

I am referencing Sacramental Confession which presupposes true contrition and not Nazarene counseling sessions. However, even in Catholic and Nazarene counseling sessions (you understand that I am NOT an authority on this?), it is to society's great benefit to have a place where perps CAN come and receive help rather than continue in their sin without any Truth being spoken into their life.

And while I think I understand what you mean by justice has prevailed -- that's a bit esoteric for me. I live in a world where a 3yo boy was just found in a septic tank. Where children are starved and killed by government policies. Where it is required that we pray DAILY Thy will be done on Earth (because it is NOT being done). That is the Justice of which I'm speaking, make sense?

Blessings to you.

Scott Savage said...

"I am referencing Sacramental Confession which presupposes true contrition and not Nazarene counseling sessions."

Ahh, the dilemma. I hear ya on this. Most Protestants don't have the official space to really challenge the state on the issue of confidentiality. The dilemma is the same as providing sanctuary for someone. I asked my teacher this in class and she responded that confidentiality goes only so far as you are willing to get to jail. I agree, but we understand going to jail differently.

On a side, I think that part of the requirement of being an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene (or the church catholic) is that one should be arrested at least once in regards to the kinds of issues we are talking about. Just a thought:)

About justice prevailing ... I understand. There are definately many "not yets" that remind us that the kingdom is still to come in its fullest. What a time in the season of epiphany to pray "Maranatha!"

Shellie said...


(to "Maranatha!" and the requirement to be arrested.) :)