Author Topic: Concerns re Confessional Seal  (Read 2226 times)

Donald_Kirchner

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #15 on: November 21, 2016, 11:06:50 PM »
A few resources relevant to this conversation:

For commentary on a 1931 court case in which a Lutheran pastor was (initially) held in contempt for refusing to break the confessional seal, see here:

http://lutheranhistory.blogspot.com/2015/06/lutheran-pastor-fined-for-holding.html

The discussion on the case includes quotes from Luther, Walther, and Schaller (WELS) regarding the confessional seal.

For a list of state laws about clergy as mandated reporters, see here:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/clergymandated.pdf

I have also attached an LCMS CTCR document on the topic—"The Pastor-Penitent Relationship" (1999).

On a different aspect of all of this.  If someone confesses not just what they have done wrong but what they intend to do wrong and they will not be dissuaded from doing wrong, but ask forgiveness for it nonetheless, can they be forgiven?  This is different from the situation where someone has sinned, repents of the sin and doesn't want to commit the sin again, but realistically probably will.  This is someone who is planning to sin, but still wants forgiveness.  What should we do?

I don't mean to be rude, but I don't see how this is even a question. If the penitent isn't actually penitent, how could any pastor offer absolution? I can't imagine any circumstance in which it would be appropriate to offer forgiveness in advance for a sin as yet uncommitted.

Also, I'm surprised to see the low private confession : years in the ministry ratio among the pastors who have commented so far. For those pastors who don't do many confessions per year, do you publicize regular hours for private confession (either weekly or monthly)?

And I don't mean to be rude, but that is not the question. The question relates to the confessional seal.
Don Kirchner

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #16 on: November 21, 2016, 11:30:40 PM »
A few resources relevant to this conversation:

For commentary on a 1931 court case in which a Lutheran pastor was (initially) held in contempt for refusing to break the confessional seal, see here:

http://lutheranhistory.blogspot.com/2015/06/lutheran-pastor-fined-for-holding.html

The discussion on the case includes quotes from Luther, Walther, and Schaller (WELS) regarding the confessional seal.

For a list of state laws about clergy as mandated reporters, see here:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/clergymandated.pdf

I have also attached an LCMS CTCR document on the topic—"The Pastor-Penitent Relationship" (1999).

On a different aspect of all of this.  If someone confesses not just what they have done wrong but what they intend to do wrong and they will not be dissuaded from doing wrong, but ask forgiveness for it nonetheless, can they be forgiven?  This is different from the situation where someone has sinned, repents of the sin and doesn't want to commit the sin again, but realistically probably will.  This is someone who is planning to sin, but still wants forgiveness.  What should we do?

I don't mean to be rude, but I don't see how this is even a question. If the penitent isn't actually penitent, how could any pastor offer absolution? I can't imagine any circumstance in which it would be appropriate to offer forgiveness in advance for a sin as yet uncommitted.

Also, I'm surprised to see the low private confession : years in the ministry ratio among the pastors who have commented so far. For those pastors who don't do many confessions per year, do you publicize regular hours for private confession (either weekly or monthly)?

And I don't mean to be rude, but that is not the question. The question relates to the confessional seal.

It is certainly a question, and one Pr. Fienen brought up in his original post. He didn't just ask about the confessional seal.

Rob Morris

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #17 on: November 21, 2016, 11:46:18 PM »
Part of why I asked the question is because my impression is that formal confession and absolution is extremely rare.

However, I don't think that means that we as Pastors are thus freed to share whatever people have shared with us. I think we have to apply our "confessional seal" mindset (a term which I would bet about 2% of our parishioners have ever heard) to much more communication than formal confession and absolution.

My rule of thumb is that I do not share any information that has been shared with me unless: (a) I have express permission to do so or (b) I am sharing it in a setting where confidentiality is required (i.e. - information the elders might need, but are clearly informed that they are not to share). And yes, there is some information that would not be shared, even if (b) were met. This applies not just to sins, then, but job status, health concerns, etc.

Now, were I called upon by Tom Selleck to share any of that information (which was the beginning of this thread), I might just wilt before the power of his moustache. That's why I pray for Pr. Harrison - with great moustache comes great responsibility.

I would still be curious what other pastors' confessions/years ratios are.

Dan Fienen

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #18 on: November 22, 2016, 01:11:59 AM »
The promise I gave at ordination and installation was to never reveal the sins confessed to me.  Nothing was said about limiting that to formal private confession and absolution services.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
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Donald_Kirchner

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #19 on: November 22, 2016, 06:28:22 AM »
The promise I gave at ordination and installation was to never reveal the sins confessed to me.  Nothing was said about limiting that to formal private confession and absolution services.

I see that you read the suggested previous thread on this topic.
Don Kirchner

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Dave Benke

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #20 on: November 22, 2016, 08:13:26 AM »
Part of why I asked the question is because my impression is that formal confession and absolution is extremely rare.

However, I don't think that means that we as Pastors are thus freed to share whatever people have shared with us. I think we have to apply our "confessional seal" mindset (a term which I would bet about 2% of our parishioners have ever heard) to much more communication than formal confession and absolution.

My rule of thumb is that I do not share any information that has been shared with me unless: (a) I have express permission to do so or (b) I am sharing it in a setting where confidentiality is required (i.e. - information the elders might need, but are clearly informed that they are not to share). And yes, there is some information that would not be shared, even if (b) were met. This applies not just to sins, then, but job status, health concerns, etc.

Now, were I called upon by Tom Selleck to share any of that information (which was the beginning of this thread), I might just wilt before the power of his moustache. That's why I pray for Pr. Harrison - with great moustache comes great responsibility.

I would still be curious what other pastors' confessions/years ratios are.

I saw the Blue Bloods episode and thought the topic was thoughtfully conceived - confession/secrecy - and carried into the Roman Catholic realm in which the show resides, quite naturally in the NYC context, complete with the Dolan-like Archbishop.  As a side note, I have been asked by the police for security camera footage at sites in the Atlantic District through the years, because the cameras could reveal murders, drug deals or criminal attacks.  It's not an automatic "yes" because once the police are in the building and looking at those cameras and people stop by, the perception is that the church works for the police department, is on the pad, so to speak.  But we have always complied, and in my own congregation host numerous meetings between NYPD and the community every year.

Anyway, I'd say a couple dozen times a year I am involved with private confession and absolution.  It's not always connected to a liturgical rite, but to the basic elements, confession by a penitent, request for absolution, prayer and pronouncement of absolution.  It's not always connected to the sanctuary or the pastor's office either.  If you walk the community or are visible in various ways, people will approach with needs and a desire to clean the slate; that has taken place on the subway or at the YMCA or on the street, once improbably at an NFL football game.

Dave Benke

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Steven W Bohler

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #21 on: November 22, 2016, 08:32:29 AM »
Part of why I asked the question is because my impression is that formal confession and absolution is extremely rare.

However, I don't think that means that we as Pastors are thus freed to share whatever people have shared with us. I think we have to apply our "confessional seal" mindset (a term which I would bet about 2% of our parishioners have ever heard) to much more communication than formal confession and absolution.

My rule of thumb is that I do not share any information that has been shared with me unless: (a) I have express permission to do so or (b) I am sharing it in a setting where confidentiality is required (i.e. - information the elders might need, but are clearly informed that they are not to share). And yes, there is some information that would not be shared, even if (b) were met. This applies not just to sins, then, but job status, health concerns, etc.

Now, were I called upon by Tom Selleck to share any of that information (which was the beginning of this thread), I might just wilt before the power of his moustache. That's why I pray for Pr. Harrison - with great moustache comes great responsibility.

I would still be curious what other pastors' confessions/years ratios are.

I saw the Blue Bloods episode and thought the topic was thoughtfully conceived - confession/secrecy - and carried into the Roman Catholic realm in which the show resides, quite naturally in the NYC context, complete with the Dolan-like Archbishop.  As a side note, I have been asked by the police for security camera footage at sites in the Atlantic District through the years, because the cameras could reveal murders, drug deals or criminal attacks.  It's not an automatic "yes" because once the police are in the building and looking at those cameras and people stop by, the perception is that the church works for the police department, is on the pad, so to speak.  But we have always complied, and in my own congregation host numerous meetings between NYPD and the community every year.

Anyway, I'd say a couple dozen times a year I am involved with private confession and absolution.  It's not always connected to a liturgical rite, but to the basic elements, confession by a penitent, request for absolution, prayer and pronouncement of absolution.  It's not always connected to the sanctuary or the pastor's office either.  If you walk the community or are visible in various ways, people will approach with needs and a desire to clean the slate; that has taken place on the subway or at the YMCA or on the street, once improbably at an NFL football game.

Dave Benke

As regarding your last sentence, I do not know if even YOU could absolve the Packers of their sins this year! :)

Harvey_Mozolak

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #22 on: November 22, 2016, 08:35:25 AM »
 (b) I am sharing it in a setting where confidentiality is required (i.e. - information the elders might need, but are clearly informed that they are not to share)

Oh, and this is kindling for the fire. 
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Charles Austin

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #23 on: November 22, 2016, 08:51:04 AM »
I have watched the "private confession among Lutherans" conversation for decades. Every single time it comes up, without fail, certain things are very clear (at least to this humble correspondent).
1. Lutherans almost never practice private confession and absolution and whenever it is attempted, it does not seem to catch on or involve many people.
2. No one, neither clergy nor laity, seems to be jumping into the Lutheran private confessional box.
3. Some pastors (I fear) see the privilege of granting absolution as some kind of "right" or "possession" that they have as clergy and "enjoy" wielding or wish they had more opportunities to employ one-on-one with graphic specificity.
4. The discussion always invokes soap-opera, B-movie scenarios about "confessed sins" related to crime, abuse, or other civic horrors that will - and aren't we all so brave and noble? - make us a focal point for a weepy drama, in which if we are not the star, we are at least co-star alongside the troubled penitent (whom we will save) or the oppressive authorities (who we will win over by our spiritual nobility).
5. There are no guidelines anywhere - repeat anywhere - relating the "seal of the confessional" to pastoral counseling or other kinds of pastoral activity.
I am privileged to pronounce absolution almost every week at the eucharist (we sometimes omit the confessional rite in festival seasons). "As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
And in prayer and counseling and teaching and discussions about the Word, I have many more opportunities to "announce" or "proclaim" absolution.
What more should we want?

« Last Edit: November 22, 2016, 08:52:41 AM by Charles Austin »
Retired ELCA Pastor. Parishes in Iowa, New York and New Jersey. LCA/LWF staff. Former journalist. When the nation is troubled, the patriot depends on the Constitution. The opportunistic traitor tries to dump or ignore the Constitution.

PlainOldPastor

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #24 on: November 22, 2016, 09:14:22 AM »
I have watched the "private confession among Lutherans" conversation for decades. Every single time it comes up, without fail, certain things are very clear (at least to this humble correspondent).
1. Lutherans almost never practice private confession and absolution and whenever it is attempted, it does not seem to catch on or involve many people.
2. No one, neither clergy nor laity, seems to be jumping into the Lutheran private confessional box.
3. Some pastors (I fear) see the privilege of granting absolution as some kind of "right" or "possession" that they have as clergy and "enjoy" wielding or wish they had more opportunities to employ one-on-one with graphic specificity.
4. The discussion always invokes soap-opera, B-movie scenarios about "confessed sins" related to crime, abuse, or other civic horrors that will - and aren't we all so brave and noble? - make us a focal point for a weepy drama, in which if we are not the star, we are at least co-star alongside the troubled penitent (whom we will save) or the oppressive authorities (who we will win over by our spiritual nobility).
5. There are no guidelines anywhere - repeat anywhere - relating the "seal of the confessional" to pastoral counseling or other kinds of pastoral activity.
I am privileged to pronounce absolution almost every week at the eucharist (we sometimes omit the confessional rite in festival seasons). "As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
And in prayer and counseling and teaching and discussions about the Word, I have many more opportunities to "announce" or "proclaim" absolution.
What more should we want?

Well, bully for you.

Personally, I was taught about private confession and absolution, and drawing the line between such and more run-of-the-mill pastoral counseling, and even guidelines on how to think things through in extreme cases if one is or isn't a mandatory reporter. I would say that in my ministry, I heard formal confessions about once a year. And why would I want to? I couldn't care less about "wielding authority" ( ::) ), but I have seen the extreme good it does for people who have been carrying around great burdens for many years, as well as those distraught by sins committed only a few minutes earlier.

Why would any pastor NOT want to offer that to a person?

Charles Austin

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #25 on: November 22, 2016, 10:11:57 AM »
My point is that we do wield authority; but that virtually every discussion about "private confession" gets bollixed up in the various drama scenarios. And that I do not see "private confession" as it is usually spoken of in these discussions, as being a big concern across the vast scope of Lutheranism.
Retired ELCA Pastor. Parishes in Iowa, New York and New Jersey. LCA/LWF staff. Former journalist. When the nation is troubled, the patriot depends on the Constitution. The opportunistic traitor tries to dump or ignore the Constitution.

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #26 on: November 22, 2016, 11:32:02 AM »
I have used Private confession and absolution a handful of times over my pastoral career (23 years)  Mostly as a pastoral care tool when someone is burdened by something particular and needs some way of laying that burden down in a way that the corporate confession and absolution from Sunday morning does not answer.  Often it is helpful for the person to name the particularity (sin) that they are struggling with.  The naming and subsequent absolution and repentance then leads to healing.
Rev. Peter Morlock- ELCA pastor serving two congregations in WIS

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #27 on: November 22, 2016, 02:44:20 PM »
Forgiveness is forgiveness whether it  is announced to the congregation in the general absolution, as absolution in a formal private service of confession and absolution, as a less formal assurance of forgiveness in counseling  or conversation or even by reading Scripture  or devotional  material.  Which one will bring the greatest comfort, be most effective in strengthening  faith, or have the greatest emotional  impact, depends on the people and situation.  While I  would hate to not have private confession and absolution  available as a tool in my  pastoral toolbox, neither would I  want to  try to coerce everyone  to utilize it.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
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Dave Benke

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #28 on: November 23, 2016, 08:31:35 AM »
Part of why I asked the question is because my impression is that formal confession and absolution is extremely rare.

However, I don't think that means that we as Pastors are thus freed to share whatever people have shared with us. I think we have to apply our "confessional seal" mindset (a term which I would bet about 2% of our parishioners have ever heard) to much more communication than formal confession and absolution.

My rule of thumb is that I do not share any information that has been shared with me unless: (a) I have express permission to do so or (b) I am sharing it in a setting where confidentiality is required (i.e. - information the elders might need, but are clearly informed that they are not to share). And yes, there is some information that would not be shared, even if (b) were met. This applies not just to sins, then, but job status, health concerns, etc.

Now, were I called upon by Tom Selleck to share any of that information (which was the beginning of this thread), I might just wilt before the power of his moustache. That's why I pray for Pr. Harrison - with great moustache comes great responsibility.

I would still be curious what other pastors' confessions/years ratios are.

I saw the Blue Bloods episode and thought the topic was thoughtfully conceived - confession/secrecy - and carried into the Roman Catholic realm in which the show resides, quite naturally in the NYC context, complete with the Dolan-like Archbishop.  As a side note, I have been asked by the police for security camera footage at sites in the Atlantic District through the years, because the cameras could reveal murders, drug deals or criminal attacks.  It's not an automatic "yes" because once the police are in the building and looking at those cameras and people stop by, the perception is that the church works for the police department, is on the pad, so to speak.  But we have always complied, and in my own congregation host numerous meetings between NYPD and the community every year.

Anyway, I'd say a couple dozen times a year I am involved with private confession and absolution.  It's not always connected to a liturgical rite, but to the basic elements, confession by a penitent, request for absolution, prayer and pronouncement of absolution.  It's not always connected to the sanctuary or the pastor's office either.  If you walk the community or are visible in various ways, people will approach with needs and a desire to clean the slate; that has taken place on the subway or at the YMCA or on the street, once improbably at an NFL football game.

Dave Benke

As regarding your last sentence, I do not know if even YOU could absolve the Packers of their sins this year! :)

And yet this is the year they're on Sunday and Monday night all the time as well as the late Sunday afternoon national game, so out here east of the Hudson we get to actually watch them lose - bummer.  At least they're not on the Thanksgiving Day agenda; turkey can be digested in peace.  Their radio feed on Sirius has the two old guys who put us in reminiscence mode - if they're winning and it's close to the end, the one guy goes "there's the dagger" when the last-needed first down is made.  This year it's unkind cuts in the other direction.

Dave Benke
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Steven W Bohler

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Re: Concerns re Confessional Seal
« Reply #29 on: November 23, 2016, 10:14:52 AM »
Yeah, Dr. Benke, I actually am GLAD this year when they are not televised here in Minnesota.  That hasn't happened in a very long time.