How does a Protestant minister handle a confession of murder?
October 20, 2006 4:29 PM Subscribe
A murder was confessed to me. I am a minister. What is my legal obligation: to report the crime to the authorities, or to maintain the confidentiality of the confession? This is not hypothetical.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (142 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
The details: I was a volunteer leader at an out-of-state summer camp. After an evening sermon I preached, another adult volunteer, age 26, said he wanted to talk to me. This is his story:
Ten years earlier, when he was a junior in high school, he and his girlfriend befriended a homeless man that they only knew as Roy. Everyday after school they would pick Roy up and take him on his regular errands. One day when the confessor was sick, his girlfriend picked up Roy alone. He attacked and raped her. She called the confessor, a 6'8" jock, who found Roy and killed him in a fit of rage. This happened in a rural, country town. He loaded the body in his truck, dug a grave in a nondescript field, and buried Roy.
In the subsequent decade, no one came looking for the missing indigent. In the meantime, further tragedy: the girlfriend died in a car wreck shortly after graduation. The confessor turned to alcohol and then drugs, including cocaine, to deal with his feelings of guilt. I mention this because I have been a casual acquaintance of this person since before the event occured, and I knew of his struggles with substance abuse, and of his rehab and recovery. That part I can verify. I have no reason to doubt that the murder took place, though.
Other than a therapist, who considers this information completely confidential, he has told no one. I am torn. I pastor a Protestant, non-demoniational church. We do not consideral confession a sacrament, as a Catholic would, so there are no particular clerical obligations to uphold. Our polity is complete congregation autonomy: there is no supervising bishop or denomination headquarters to consult. Further, this person is not a member of my church, but he came to me, clearly, because he wanted to speak to a minister. I don't know if that is important or not. I am a minister, but not his minister. I am hesitant to bring this question to my friends in ministry, as most of them know this person and probably would be able to figure out of whom I am speaking. So, Mefites: any insight or guidance? Call the DA's office or forget about it, or something else?