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Church Office discuss Can a pastor ever break confidentiality? in the The Church forums; I am curious as to if there are cases when a pastor can break confidentiality adn what would happen if they did it fo rsome ...

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    jwright82's Avatar
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    Can a pastor ever break confidentiality?

    I am curious as to if there are cases when a pastor can break confidentiality adn what would happen if they did it fo rsome other reason?
    James
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    If someone said "I am about to go home and murder my family" and looked as if he meant it?
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    My understanding is that pastors/counselors are bound by the law to report situations where someone is being physically abused. If it's reported that a man is beating his kids, the police and CPS need to be contacted.
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    Every state's law is different. Biblically, the Pastor shouldn't promise to not tell anyone (anyone being especially the Session or other courts) [this is an issue of the 9th commandment].

    Also, a Pastor isn't a doctor. There is no where in THE manual that says a Pastor has to keep anything silent or confidential.
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    Pastoral confidentiality is not really biblical. Private confession is a Roman Catholic invention. Granted, there are many things that a pastor can (and probably should) keep in confidence as a matter of respect and prudence. For example, a married couple can come to a pastor with marital problems that do not need to be discussed outside of counseling. That is fine. But I always tell folks coming in for counseling that if someone says, "I murdered my wife and buried her in the basement" or "I'm molesting my children," then then first thing I'm going to do is alert the police. If a husband comes and says, "I'm having an affair and I'm leaving my wife," rest assured that at the very least the elders will be notified and church discipline will begin.
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    But is a pastor required to testify in court against someone or can they refrain as their right as a pastor?
    James
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    JennyG is offline. Puritanboard Graduate
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    I think this is a big conundrum mainly for RCs, because as mentioned above, their confessional really is supposed to be in unbreakable confidence.They enjoy discussing what's the rule in complicated hypothetical situations (though it's probably all laid down for them somewhere)
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwright82 View Post
    I am curious as to if there are cases when a pastor can break confidentiality adn what would happen if they did it fo rsome other reason?
    I would suggest all pastors make known that severe crimes ( not someone who confesses speeding as a habit they are wrestling with, for example )will be reported to the proper authorities (if they refuse to turn themselves in, as part of repentance) and church discipline will be carried out, up to and including making a matter known to the Church, in an official posted statement, prior to any counseling.
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    Most states recognize some form of what is called the "priest/penitent" privilege as an evidentiary rule regarding formal testimony in a court case. The privilege is "held" by the penitent, not the priest. As with all evidentiary rules, there are exceptions.
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    If I remember correctly, Paul Tripp talks about this in his class Methods of Biblical Change, and thus may address it in Instruments in the Redeemers Hands (the book form of that class). I believe what he says is basically this: He never signs or tells someone that he's obligated to confidentiality, and communicates that to counselees. The idea is simply that if someone confesses to or brings up a situation that is illegal, God has ordained an instrument of correction for that person: the State. If someone's doing something that's illegal or harmful, the State needs to the the immediate rod of correction to that person. To not allow that would be to not be Christian in our thinking about the issue. Now, what that doesn't mean is that somebody's secrets are posted all over the net after the appointment (so to speak). Tripp emphasizes trust and respect and security in the relationship, but not a blind or foolish assent to confidentiality that isn't Biblical in the first place.

    If you're looking for resources on this stuff, I'd highly recommend this book.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwright82 View Post
    But is a pastor required to testify in court against someone or can they refrain as their right as a pastor?
    I'm thinking each individual state's law would be the key to this. But I would think that in the State's court, the Pastor could not refrain (if he did, he would be thrown in jail).
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    I know as a Chaplain Assistant I can never break confidentiality under any circumstances unless a judge rules that no confidentiality ever existed and that is confirmed by the Chief of Chaplains. The same goes for Chaplains who are like "pastors" to the Army.
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    Pastors do not have any legal right to withhold information from a police enquiry in this country, and they do have a legal (and moral) obligation to report certain admissions.

    I always make it very clear to counselees that I might feel the need to share information with my Eldership and/or my wife, at the very least, however I talk about how this is for their benefit as well as my protection, to date I have never had some 'clam up' on me
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Scibbe View Post
    I know as a Chaplain Assistant I can never break confidentiality under any circumstances unless a judge rules that no confidentiality ever existed and that is confirmed by the Chief of Chaplains. The same goes for Chaplains who are like "pastors" to the Army.
    Yeah I was in the Air Force and the Chaplains used to tell us the same thing. So I wondered if the same rules applied to civilian pastors?

    ---------- Post added at 12:49 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:46 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by bug View Post
    Pastors do not have any legal right to withhold information from a police enquiry in this country, and they do have a legal (and moral) obligation to report certain admissions.

    I always make it very clear to counselees that I might feel the need to share information with my Eldership and/or my wife, at the very least, however I talk about how this is for their benefit as well as my protection, to date I have never had some 'clam up' on me
    Yeah but I know of a situation where the session was forced to testify against someone who admited to the crimes (they were only crimes in the military though, not civil crimes) but the pastor was able to refrain testifying for simply being a pastor.
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    jwright82, you might note I said "in this country" is the case you refer to an English one?
    Jonathan (Pastor, Salem Baptist, Cambs, UK. Grace Baptist [BCF 1689])

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    Quote Originally Posted by bug View Post
    jwright82, you might note I said "in this country" is the case you refer to an English one?
    It is an American one.
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    law might different across the pond then
    Jonathan (Pastor, Salem Baptist, Cambs, UK. Grace Baptist [BCF 1689])

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    Quote Originally Posted by FenderPriest View Post
    The idea is simply that if someone confesses to or brings up a situation that is illegal, God has ordained an instrument of correction for that person: the State. If someone's doing something that's illegal or harmful, the State needs to the the immediate rod of correction to that person. To not allow that would be to not be Christian in our thinking about the issue.
    I agree with this and I like the line of thinking that Tripp follows. However, does it change anything if the person confessing sinful behavior is the victim and not the abuser? For example, as stated above Tripp says a pastor should alert authorities if a man came to him and said he was beating his wife, but what if the wife came to the pastor and said her husband was beating her? Should the pastor still alert the police? What if the woman asks him not to?
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    Quote Originally Posted by bug View Post
    Pastors do not have any legal right to withhold information from a police enquiry in this country
    That might be more helpful if you told which country, or at least had a location in your signature block. And if you are working in a country that you can't identify for security reasons, you might say which country's laws you are familiar with without saying that you are there.
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    Well it was a military court in America so I don't know if that makes a difference.
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    1. To be clear, I disagree with the 100% absolute confidentiality rule imposed on me by the military. Nonetheless, I abide by it because I am compelled.

    2. If a Soldier faces a court martial, anything he told me in confidence is inadmissible. Within DoD culture the "clergy-parishoner" relationship enjoys the same officially sanctioned confidentiality as does attorney-client privilege, etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SolaScriptura View Post
    1. To be clear, I disagree with the 100% absolute confidentiality rule imposed on me by the military. Nonetheless, I abide by it because I am compelled.

    2. If a Soldier faces a court martial, anything he told me in confidence is inadmissible. Within DoD culture the "clergy-parishoner" relationship enjoys the same officially sanctioned confidentiality as does attorney-client privilege, etc.
    So you are saying that it is different from military court to civilian court?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by bug View Post
    Pastors do not have any legal right to withhold information from a police enquiry in this country
    That might be more helpful if you told which country, or at least had a location in your signature block. And if you are working in a country that you can't identify for security reasons, you might say which country's laws you are familiar with without saying that you are there.
    Which is why I took the time to clarify my comments, friend, I am from sunny old England!
    Jonathan (Pastor, Salem Baptist, Cambs, UK. Grace Baptist [BCF 1689])

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    Quote Originally Posted by jwright82 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SolaScriptura View Post
    1. To be clear, I disagree with the 100% absolute confidentiality rule imposed on me by the military. Nonetheless, I abide by it because I am compelled.

    2. If a Soldier faces a court martial, anything he told me in confidence is inadmissible. Within DoD culture the "clergy-parishoner" relationship enjoys the same officially sanctioned confidentiality as does attorney-client privilege, etc.
    So you are saying that it is different from military court to civilian court?
    I have no idea.

    I think that there may be particulars about the case to which you aren't privy.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwright82 View Post
    So you are saying that it is different from military court to civilian court?
    In civilian courts, it is going to vary by jurisdiction. So if you really need to know, you probably should consult a trial attorney in that jurisdiction. In some states, the privilege belongs to the penitent, in some states the pastor, in some both, and some neither. And it may be impacted as to whether someone is trying to compel the pastor to talk, or whether the pastor wants to talk and someone is trying to compel silence.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    In civilian courts, it is going to vary by jurisdiction. So if you really need to know, you probably should consult a trial attorney in that jurisdiction. In some states, the privilege belongs to the penitent, in some states the pastor, in some both, and some neither. And it may be impacted as to whether someone is trying to compel the pastor to talk, or whether the pastor wants to talk and someone is trying to compel silence.
    No, no, no I do not "really need to know" I was just curious thats all. I am not curious enough to consult any attorney. I pretty got my question answered.
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