Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seal of the Confessional

... Or, Ministerial Confidentiality

We haven't talked about this in class, but I'm beginning to think that we need to. There's a topic up for consideration for myself right now, largely because I do quite a bit of listening to people who speak to me "as a minister."

For some reason, people make an assumption that if you're a minister, you're required by law to never repeat things. Unfortunately, that's just not true. The Catholics have the "Seal of the Confessional" which states they cannot share what they learn in a confession from someone, however even that seal of confidentiality has been breached lately, at least in regards to child safety and welfare. Outside of the Catholic faith, I do not believe there is another denomination that has the iron clad agreement across all its churches that anything told in confidence to a priest or minister is confidential.

That said, it is highly unlikely that any person who had shown a previous dedication to keeping "ministerial confidences" private would be prosecuted for keeping quiet even in the face of a crime. The only challenge that might get past that would be if a minister had someone confess to them that they were harming children and that was not passed along, but I've yet to find a minister who wouldn't firmly march said penitent confessor to a police station and have them say it themselves. Most of us who walk into the ministerial profession(s) are fairly ethical.

I have a Code of Ethics which I wrote both for my class and for myself. Originally, it didn't include anything about confidentiality. I decided today that such a section MUST be included, and so I have. My code is based heavily on the Delphic Maxims, and so in thinking of the idea of a seal of confidentiality, I turned to the Maxims. I was not disappointed.

Exercise prudence.  Be religiously silent.  Have respect for suppliants.  Restrain the tongue.  Keep deeply the top secret.  Exercise religious silence.

These are some of the rules our ancestors followed as a guide to good behavior. They are what helped channel their ethics and morals. The idea of confidentiality was not strange, or so it seems to me. When I found all those results, I realized that it wasn't important to add this to my ethical code; it was imperative.

And so the new section has been added, under the heading, "Be religiously silent." I felt this was the Maxim which most captured what I wanted to say. It isn't that everything ever said to me needs to be held under the same strict rules of non-repetition. However, I need to respect it when someone comes to me and says, "This won't be repeated, will it?"

Be Religiously Silent 
When approached as a minister to listen to someone's perceived or actual sins or problems, I will keep that confidence strictly, never repeating what is said to me under that seal of confidentiality, except only to save the life of another human being.

I believe this may be one of the most important of my ethics, because it defines something in actual use. My other ethics are important, but they're largely not addressing issues that other people will see in my daily routine. They talk of worshiping the gods, obeying the law, and other similarly philosophical ideas. Keeping my mouth shut when someone shares something important is another story entirely. 

I feel good.
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