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https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-child-welfare/2020/04/21/bisbee-man-confesses-hes-molesting-his-daughter-church-tells-bishop-not-report-abuse/2876617001/

I've never really liked how Church legal handles reporting (it varies by jurisdiction), and I've wondered about conflict between what a bishop is told to do and doing what he feels he should, when there is a conflict. 

I feel really bad for the bishops, because I know from experience that the counsel received is "Don't report this." I know that there are issues of confidentiality, but I think that if this happened to me, I would tell the person that if he didn't turn himself in, then I would. And, I know that this is contrary to what the abuse hotline tells them. 

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Thankfully, I never had to face this personally, but I have wondered if a bishop were told not to report and he did report, what the fallout would be? Would he be liable in a lawsuit (for breaking confidence)? Would the Church defend him (probably not --- he was told not to)? Would he be released? Formally disciplined? 

Many years ago, there was the case of Susan Brock, where she confessed to her bishop directly, following a meeting with the victim's parents, her and her husband, and the stake president. She categorically denied the allegations in the stake president meeting, so he had a case of she said, they said. But, the bishop was the one with the direct confession. She and her daughter were only arrested because the victim's parents called the police. 

https://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/chandler/susan-brock-sentenced-to-13-years-in-prison/article_b8e6a136-6168-11e0-9011-001cc4c03286.html

It really is a thankless job, both on the part of priesthood leaders, and the hotline legal help. It's difficult, but I wonder if it's time to not include confession of horrible things under confidentiality "do not report" counsel.

I realize that doctrinally, this is different from the Catholic Church, where breaking the seal of confession is a mortal sin. We don't have doctrine in this regard; it's more a matter of engendering trust and trustworthiness. 

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1 hour ago, rongo said:

https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-child-welfare/2020/04/21/bisbee-man-confesses-hes-molesting-his-daughter-church-tells-bishop-not-report-abuse/2876617001/

I've never really liked how Church legal handles reporting (it varies by jurisdiction), and I've wondered about conflict between what a bishop is told to do and doing what he feels he should, when there is a conflict. 

I feel really bad for the bishops, because I know from experience that the counsel received is "Don't report this." I know that there are issues of confidentiality, but I think that if this happened to me, I would tell the person that if he didn't turn himself in, then I would. And, I know that this is contrary to what the abuse hotline tells them. 

I think that a bishop should tell any victim to make a police report, but am not sure of the penitent-priest confidentiality rule in the law for the perpetrator.  Most Catholic priests would allow themselves to be killed before they would break confidentiality.  Can such a confession even be used in court in all jurisdictions?  Does the confessing person come to an LDS bishop assuming the rule of confidentiality?  What happens if LDS bishops flout the rule and the law?  Will parishioners feel safe confessing anything?

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35 minutes ago, Fair Dinkum said:

The bishop was instructed NOT to report to the authorities by the churches legal council?   While I understand how this might be beneficial to the church and the perpetrator help me understand how this council was in the best interest of the victim?  Disgusting.

No matter the crime, rape, murder, etc., the priest-penitent privilege is clearly recognized in law. and the bishop or priest receiving the confession is bound to keep it completely confidential forever.  The bishop or priest is not a mandated reporter when he receives such information in the confessional.  Otherwise, no one would confess, and such sins could not be remitted.  It is completely understandable that someone who does not believe in such things would find it disgusting.  Hey, I believe and I'm disgusted.  :diablo:  However, that doesn't come to grips with the problem, Fair Dinkum.

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40 minutes ago, Fair Dinkum said:

The bishop was instructed NOT to report to the authorities by the churches legal council?   While I understand how this might be beneficial to the church and the perpetrator help me understand how this council was in the best interest of the victim?  Disgusting.

I'm not saying this was the case in this situation, but in some states, a confession to a clergy, where the clergy breaks confidentiality, is not admissible in court.  So a bishop that turned in a confidential confession could actually make things worse for the victim, legally anyway.  

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1 hour ago, rongo said:

I realize that doctrinally, this is different from the Catholic Church, where breaking the seal of confession is a mortal sin. We don't have doctrine in this regard; it's more a matter of engendering trust and trustworthiness. 

And following the law of the state.

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A bishop cannot violate the confessional.   But any bishop who simply sits back without doing something is nuts.   For instance, the bishop could have told mom that the kids needed to be safe and she should sleep in front of their door and even helped her get away from the husband.   Maybe contacted grandparents or others who loved the kids to tell them kiddos weren't safe and they needed to be actively involved in their lives.   The bishop could have required the father to leave the home as part of the repentance process, and facilitated mo moving mom into a shelter if mom was afraid.   The bishop could have resigned and then made an anonymous complaint that the children were in danger of sexual abuse to the hotline (maybe even accept excommunication if the church did that). 

But even if a bishop does all that, sometimes a mother refuses to believe, is too ashamed to be able to do anything for the children, or has been threatened or worn down by domestic violence or being without resources or support. 

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18 minutes ago, smac97 said:

We discussed this story last year (in December, I believe).  I'll see if I can find the thread.

He should obey the law.  He should also act within the scope of his ecclesiastical calling.  It seems a rare thing to have these things be in conflict.

I don't think that's accurate.  The counsel they receive is varied.  Sometimes reporting is mandatory.  Sometimes reporting is prohibited.  Sometimes reporting is discretionary.

That is a deeply problematic attitude.  I invite you to think on it.

The priest-penitent privilege is generally not the bishop's to waive.  It belongs to the confessor.

No, you don't know that.  Again, the abuse hotline provides advice based on the law.  

Thanks,

-Smac

Insane! I think something somehow should have stopped this. Such as a bishop resigning and then reporting the abuse. There were a lot of things that could stop the horrifness of these children being abused. How did the church authorities and the two bishops sleep at night? People mandating about how the bishop has to follow the law? If I were the bishop I'd take that chance.

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2 hours ago, rongo said:

Thankfully, I never had to face this personally, but I have wondered if a bishop were told not to report and he did report, what the fallout would be?

It could be serious.  The Church takes the priest-penitent privilege seriously.  I think it is deeply problematic for a bishop to abuse the trust the Church has reposed in him by flouting the law and/or the Church's instructions regarding maintaining confidentiality.

2 hours ago, rongo said:

Would he be liable in a lawsuit (for breaking confidence)?

An interesting question.  I think there's a fair chance that such liability is possible.  And since he is functioning as an agent of the Church, the Church could be liable as well.

2 hours ago, rongo said:

Would the Church defend him (probably not --- he was told not to)?

Would the Church pay the legal fees of a bishop who disregarded the instructions he received from the Church regarding confidentiality?  Hard to say.

2 hours ago, rongo said:

Would he be released? Formally disciplined? 

I think those are distinct possibilities.

2 hours ago, rongo said:

Many years ago, there was the case of Susan Brock, where she confessed to her bishop directly, following a meeting with the victim's parents, her and her husband, and the stake president. She categorically denied the allegations in the stake president meeting, so he had a case of she said, they said. But, the bishop was the one with the direct confession. She and her daughter were only arrested because the victim's parents called the police. 

https://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/chandler/susan-brock-sentenced-to-13-years-in-prison/article_b8e6a136-6168-11e0-9011-001cc4c03286.html

It really is a thankless job, both on the part of priesthood leaders, and the hotline legal help.

It's a difficult job, but not a thankless one.  Bishops are often appreciated for their efforts.

2 hours ago, rongo said:

It's difficult, but I wonder if it's time to not include confession of horrible things under confidentiality "do not report" counsel.

That is not for the individual leader to decide.  As long as he is acting in his official capacity, he is bound to observe the laws of the land, and also the doctrines and practices and guidelines promulgated by the Church.  

Church leaders who receive confessions are acting in an official capacity, not a personal one, so any "rights" which may be in play do not belong to the leader as an individual, and instead only accrue to him in his official capacity.  Therefore, the type and scope and breadth of these rights are defined by A) the Church, and B) secular law pertaining to the confessor's Constitutional right against self-incrimination, the confessor's Free Exercise rights, the LDS Church's Free Exercise rights, and so on.  That second group of things is a biggie, as the judicial system is principally interested in the rights of the confessor, and also in "Free Exercise" rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

 

These considerations are governed mostly by secular law, which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  So when confidentiality can or must be breached varies quite a bit.  The LDS Church teaches that we are obligated to honor and uphold such laws.

The LDS Church maintains a hotline for bishops, which they can call any time they run into questions about confessions.  The hotline is, as I understand it, staffed by attorneys from a law firm retained by the Church, Kirton & McConkie, which monitors and maintains up-to-date information about the various reporting requirements in the U.S. and Canada (I'm not sure how it works in other countries).  

2 hours ago, rongo said:

I realize that doctrinally, this is different from the Catholic Church, where breaking the seal of confession is a mortal sin.

I think D&C 59:12 is a good place to start.

There are oodles of scriptures about "confession."  Confession to whom is usually not specifically stated.  So some exegesis is needed.  Extrapolation.  Reasoned application.  That's what General Authorities are for, I think.

2 hours ago, rongo said:

We don't have doctrine in this regard; it's more a matter of engendering trust and trustworthiness. 

Actually, I think we do have doctrine in this regard.

It's a complex matter, and one that has been given a lot of attention and thought.  So the priest/penitent privilege is really not something for which emotionalistic, knee-jerk reactions are a good idea.

Thanks,

-Smac

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2 hours ago, ksfisher said:

One thing I think would happen is that people would stop confessing anything that might be considered a crime to their bishops.  I think this would be a shame as it would

1) cut off these people from the healing power of the atonement that confession to a bishop starts them on the path to receiving

and

2) close off a possible path for the perpetrator to turn himself in to the proper authorities.  Sometimes what a perpetrator may need is someone by his side when he does decide to go to the authorities.

That is a definite concern. From the LDS perspective, I think it is **the** concern. We don't have a doctrinal sanctity of the confessional akin to the Roman Catholic Church. I think it is solely a matter of trust and trustworthiness between the person confessing and the leader. 

2 hours ago, strappinglad said:

Is there a bishop who, upon hearing such a confession, would not encourage/suggest strongly that the person immediately tell the authorities ?

I think most would insist on it. But if the person refuses, and the bishop believes there is a good likelihood of further abuse/danger to others? Most here seem to argue that he cannot call authorities himself then. That's what bothers me. 

1 hour ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Most Catholic priests would allow themselves to be killed before they would break confidentiality.  Can such a confession even be used in court in all jurisdictions?  Does the confessing person come to an LDS bishop assuming the rule of confidentiality?  What happens if LDS bishops flout the rule and the law?  Will parishioners feel safe confessing anything?

We don't see it as a doctrinal mortal sin for the bishop like that. Again, I'm not sure if breaking confidence "taints" the evidence in some states. I think what you come back to is the key from an LDS perspective. 

1 hour ago, bluebell said:

I'm not saying this was the case in this situation, but in some states, a confession to a clergy, where the clergy breaks confidentiality, is not admissible in court.  So a bishop that turned in a confidential confession could actually make things worse for the victim, legally anyway.  

I don't know about this. I've heard it, but I don't know that any state's law would say that broken confidentiality makes it inadmissible. 

1 hour ago, rpn said:

A bishop cannot violate the confessional.   But any bishop who simply sits back without doing something is nuts.   For instance, the bishop could have told mom that the kids needed to be safe and she should sleep in front of their door and even helped her get away from the husband.   Maybe contacted grandparents or others who loved the kids to tell them kiddos weren't safe and they needed to be actively involved in their lives.   The bishop could have required the father to leave the home as part of the repentance process, and facilitated mo moving mom into a shelter if mom was afraid.   The bishop could have resigned and then made an anonymous complaint that the children were in danger of sexual abuse to the hotline (maybe even accept excommunication if the church did that). 

All of these suggestions either violate confidentiality, too, or cannot be enforced by him. What does/should he do then?

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24 minutes ago, smac97 said:

It could be serious.  The Church takes the priest-penitent privilege seriously.  I think it is deeply problematic for a bishop to abuse the trust the Church has reposed in him by flouting the law and/or the Church's instructions regarding maintaining confidentiality.

An interesting question.  I think there's a fair chance that such liability is possible.  And since he is functioning as an agent of the Church, the Church could be liable as well.

Would the Church pay the legal fees of a bishop who disregarded the instructions he received from the Church regarding confidentiality?  Hard to say.

I think those are distinct possibilities.

It's a difficult job, but not a thankless one.  Bishops are often appreciated for their efforts.

That is not for the individual leader to decide.  As long as he is acting in his official capacity, he is bound to observe the laws of the land, and also the doctrines and practices and guidelines promulgated by the Church.  

Church leaders who receive confessions are acting in an official capacity, not a personal one, so any "rights" which may be in play do not belong to the leader as an individual, and instead only accrue to him in his official capacity.  Therefore, the type and scope and breadth of these rights are defined by A) the Church, and B) secular law pertaining to the confessor's Constitutional right against self-incrimination, the confessor's Free Exercise rights, the LDS Church's Free Exercise rights, and so on.  That second group of things is a biggie, as the judicial system is principally interested in the rights of the confessor, and also in "Free Exercise" rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

 

These considerations are governed mostly by secular law, which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  So when confidentiality can or must be breached varies quite a bit.  The LDS Church teaches that we are obligated to honor and uphold such laws.

The LDS Church maintains a hotline for bishops, which they can call any time they run into questions about confessions.  The hotline is, as I understand it, staffed by attorneys from a law firm retained by the Church, Kirton & McConkie, which monitors and maintains up-to-date information about the various reporting requirements in the U.S. and Canada (I'm not sure how it works in other countries).  

I think D&C 59:12 is a good place to start.

There are oodles of scriptures about "confession."  Confession to whom is usually not specifically stated.  So some exegesis is needed.  Extrapolation.  Reasoned application.  That's what General Authorities are for, I think.

Actually, I think we do have doctrine in this regard.

It's a complex matter, and one that has been given a lot of attention and thought.  So the priest/penitent privilege is really not something for which emotionalistic, knee-jerk reactions are a good idea.

Thanks,

-Smac

NVM can't rehash this.

Edited by Tacenda
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The church response was that the police WERE notified by the victim facilitated by church leaders. But I’m noticing that people on this thread keep referring to Bishop confidentiality. There is no confidentiality with any serious moral transgression. If the bishop calls a court there are automatically three or four people who will know. Minutes are (or at least used to be) taken at these meetings. If the stake president is involved then the penitent is looking at a stake presidency and an entire high Council being in the know. How on earth is that confidential? Not to mention the fact that leaders sometimes slip up and tell their wives who tell other people and on and on and on. This is not something I have experienced myself but have seen it many many times in the more gossipy wards that I have belonged to.  At any rate, I could never be a bishop. If someone confessed to me that they had molested a child, I would be on the phone with the police immediately. And I am a person who is very good at keeping confidentialities, But my need to protect children would supersede that. Probably a good thing I’ll never be a bishop.

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4 minutes ago, katherine the great said:

The church response was that the police WERE notified by the victim facilitated by church leaders. But I’m noticing that people on this thread keep referring to Bishop confidentiality. There is no confidentiality with any serious moral transgression. If the bishop calls a court there are automatically three or four people who will know. Minutes are (or at least used to be) taken at these meetings. If the stake president is involved then the penitent is looking at a stake presidency and an entire high Council being in the know. How on earth is that confidential? Not to mention the fact that leaders sometimes slip up and tell their wives who tell other people and on and on and on. This is not something I have experienced myself but have seen it many many times in the more gossipy wards that I have belonged to.  At any rate, I could never be a bishop. If someone confessed to me that they had molested a child, I would be on the phone with the police immediately. And I am a person who is very good at keeping confidentialities, But my need to protect children would supersede that. Probably a good thing I’ll never be a bishop.

Thanks, I needed this. 

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23 minutes ago, smac97 said:

It could be serious.  The Church takes the priest-penitent privilege seriously.  I think it is deeply problematic for a bishop to abuse the trust the Church has reposed in him by flouting the law and/or the Church's instructions regarding maintaining confidentiality.

It's certainly not something to treat lightly, that's for sure. 

The LDS Church maintains a hotline for bishops, which they can call any time they run into questions about confessions.  The hotline is, as I understand it, staffed by attorneys from a law firm retained by the Church, Kirton & McConkie, which monitors and maintains up-to-date information about the various reporting requirements in the U.S. and Canada (I'm not sure how it works in other countries). 

I know this very well. I've called it many times for counsel and to report things (not always abuse; there are other legal questions bishops run into). I can tell you that the Church does not want its leaders embroiled in legal issues, called as witnesses, etc. When reporting is necessary, the K-M attorney tells the bishop that he will do it for him. But, what the leader is told is to say nothing. Upon being told, "You have no legal obligation to report that," I've asked if I have a moral or ethical obligation, and I've simply had it repeated, "You have no legal obligation to report that." 

I have also been told that the reporting laws can also vary between counties, and that Maricopa County (Arizona's largest, with Phoenix. The jurisdiction in question is rural, and near the Mexican border) is a tricky one that has sought to push the boundaries of requiring the Church to report more than others. I've also been told (and I agree generally) that the Church wants to jealously safeguard its privilege rights and doesn't want them eroded away. 

All of this gets very complicated, thought, when abuse and danger are certain, but legal counsel is still telling you not to report anything, like in this story.

 

There are oodles of scriptures about "confession."  Confession to whom is usually not specifically stated.  So some exegesis is needed.  Extrapolation.  Reasoned application.  That's what General Authorities are for, I think.

Actually, I think we do have doctrine in this regard.

I would be very interested in any statements of doctrine you are aware of, either from the scriptures or from General Authorities. I think I'm aware of any you might mention, and there is not much doctrinally established, beyond the common sense of wanting to engender trust and trustworthiness between people and their leaders. Questions such as release or discipline for leaders who breach confidentiality haven't been treated anywhere, to my knowledge; it's uncharted waters. 

 

 

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29 minutes ago, katherine the great said:

. There is no confidentiality with any serious moral transgression.

There appears to be legal confidentiality and practical confidentiality and they are often not the same.  I am primarily concerned about legal confidentiality...would a bishop telling law enforcement screw up LE's ability to respond and do something about the abuse?  Not even punishment as in screwing prosecution, but prevention.  Will LE be able to step in to protect or not.  

There is probably a difference between children and adult, as CPS probably has a different set of requirements to act than LE investigating adult crimes.

If people want legal confidentiality to change, complaining to their legislatures seems the most effective thing to do.

I wish there were studies on whether or not predators would be more likely to confess with legal confidentiality and how often this helped get the victims help vs other approaches, but don't really see how that could be studied.

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24 minutes ago, rongo said:

I know this very well. I've called it many times for counsel and to report things (not always abuse; there are other legal questions bishops run into). I can tell you that the Church does not want its leaders embroiled in legal issues, called as witnesses, etc.

This is a very understandable position to take.  Bishops are not supposed to be extensions of law enforcement.  They often receive information pertaining to a dispute between two members of the Church.  I think it's reasonable for the Church to generally want its bishops to not take sides in legal proceedings that arise from such disputes.

24 minutes ago, rongo said:

When reporting is necessary, the K-M attorney tells the bishop that he will do it for him. But, what the leader is told is to say nothing. Upon being told, "You have no legal obligation to report that," I've asked if I have a moral or ethical obligation, and I've simply had it repeated, "You have no legal obligation to report that."

So it's left to the discretion of the bishop?

24 minutes ago, rongo said:

I have also been told that the reporting laws can also vary between counties, and that Maricopa County (Arizona's largest, with Phoenix. The jurisdiction in question is rural, and near the Mexican border) is a tricky one that has sought to push the boundaries of requiring the Church to report more than others. I've also been told (and I agree generally) that the Church wants to jealously safeguard its privilege rights and doesn't want them eroded away. 

All of this gets very complicated, thought, when abuse and danger are certain, but legal counsel is still telling you not to report anything, like in this story.

I agree that it's complicated.

By way of a hypothetical: A bishop receives an allegation of abuse.  The purported abuse took place many years ago, such that the statute of limitations precludes prosecution.  The person reporting the allegations has a history of mental illness.  The person, an adult, is alleging misconduct by his father against his siblings.  The (adult) siblings deny the abuse occurred.  The purported abuser denies the allegations.  There is no evidence of abuse except for the uncorroborated allegations.

Assuming no legal duty to report, should the bishop nevertheless report the allegations to law enforcement?

Thanks,

-Smac

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36 minutes ago, rongo said:

I've also been told (and I agree generally) that the Church wants to jealously safeguard its privilege rights and doesn't want them eroded away. 

By whom?

There may be very good reasons for this if true.  The hotline or other reports to SL is probably the closest thing to having a database on how many confess to bishops in locations where confidentiality is maintained vs areas of mandated reporting.  I suspect numbers are too low to rule out variables for certainty, but perhaps there are enough to at least show a hint.  They may be able to determine there is a benefit for victims to confidentiality....or it may be more about tradition, etc.  I would not be adverse to the Church explaining itself in those terms.

Edited by Calm
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