Confidentiality, Crime, and the Clergy

What responsibilities do members of the clergy have to those who entrust them with secrets? What do they owe society?

Are you a clergyperson?
Discuss with other religious professionals the ethical dilemmas you have struggled with in our Clergy Corner.
A priest's decision, 12 years after the fact, to reveal the confession of a now-dead murderer overturned the conviction of the two men who had been imprisoned for the crime. We asked clergy from several different faiths what they would do if someone confessed a crime to them during a private conversation. Here's how they responded:

Rev. Paul Raushenbush, Baptist minister and chaplain at Columbia University:

"The boy [Jesus Fornes] called the clergyperson because of his overwhelming feelings of guilt. The only way for the boy to relieve himself of this guilt was to confess and repent of it to God in the presence of another human being. In a similar situation, I would talk of the promise of forgiveness of sins. I would emphasize the importance of acknowledging sin in the process of forgiveness. I would inform him of my intention to tell the police that the people they had locked up were innocent. I would urge him to come with me and turn himself in, and state my willingness to stick with him through whatever might come if he was willing to go with me. If he would not, I think the appropriate action would be to go to the police but not reveal the identity of the person who confessed.

Do you trust your clergyperson with your secrets?
Yes. I know they will keep them confidential.
Yes, but not everything--some things are just between God and me.
Sometimes, but I worry that they might mention them by accident.
No, I've heard people's secrets used as sermon topics.
No. I prefer to use a mental health professional.
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