Pastoral Confidentiality

The recent publication of the Book, “This we Believe : Selected Topics in Faith and Practice in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod”, has made it necessary that I make a brief editorial on the subject of Pastoral Confidentiality.  Here it is :

The pastor is NEVER free to reveal sins which have been confessed to him.  While this does would not include a person who is asking forgiveness for a sin which he plans to commit (As he is not confessing, he is asking permission, and so the seal of the confessional does not apply – a point the pastor must make to the individual before he finishes speaking)  this prohibition absolutely covers a sin which has been committed, could cause harm to another, and which, in the pastor’s judgement, the person is likely or even certain to commit again.

So, for example, if a man comes confessing, “I have killed six people.”  And it has been in the news that a serial killer has killed six people, and will likely kill a seventh, there is no way that the pastor can reveal this.  None at all.  He can encourage the person to go to the police.  He can plead and beg.  He can explain to the man the danger his soul is in if he continues this.  But he can not reveal the sin.  If he does he should be removed from office and excommunicated.

The example we always debated in the seminary was a man who admits to abusing his children.  The abuse will almost certainly continue.  Innocent people are being victimized.  Yet, the man knows his behavior is sinful and needs forgiveness.  It must be given, and it can not be revealed.

Of course, the pastor also has a responsibility to make certain that the man is not carried away by his passions, which may lead to his condemnation.  So, if the man is unwilling to seek outside assistance, the pastor may decide to stop by that evening for a casual pastoral visit.  Once he is assured that no abuse will happen that evening, he can return home.  Of course, he will likely want to stop by the next evening.  And the one after that.  And so on.   But he can say nothing.  Never.  To anyone.  At all.

There can be no judgment calls by the pastor.  It can not be revealed.  To follow any other course destroys the sanctity and safety of the confessional.  You can never confess to the pastor, because you can never be certain when his judgment will decide it is best to reveal the sin.

In this case the Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei (CTCR) is simply wrong.

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