Dear Abby: “Murder in the confessional”
c/o the Times (West County Times)
PO BOX 8099
Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099
RE: 7/3/97 column, Rules of the Confessional
Reality check on the 'murderer in the Confessional, who tells the priest he is guilty of a crime someone else is scheduled to be executed for'.
First, why should the priest assume the man is telling the truth? Police get false confessions all the time; it is even more likely that delusional people would confess to a priest -- it's less threatening. Someone who 'confesses' such a crime but refuses the priest's requirement for absolution is fairly likely to be lying or delusional.
But if it is the truth, who says the problem has to be solved in 10 minutes? Proper action for the priest would be to ask the person to come see him, meet with him, talk with him again for however long is needed. This would still be under the Seal of the Confessional, but something led the man to come, so there is hope. The priest can, using his skills and his heart, lead the man either to turn himself in or at least to give the priest permission to report to the authorities. As he is doing his work, getting the penitent to see that he is committing another murder if he does nothing, the priest must also be praying! Rather than consider whether to risk the Seal of the Confessional, he should be doing his best and asking God for the rest. Or doesn't he have Faith?
As soon as someone defines any 'case' where the Seal can be compromised, individual judgement and rationalization will see case after case that 'qualifies', and there will be no Seal, and confession will be destroyed.
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