clbent04

Are Confessions Kept Confidential by Bishops?

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When I was a teenager, maybe a sophomore or junior in high school, I messed around with my girlfriend here and there.  She was my first girlfriend, and I had never done what we had done previous to dating her.  Pretty much everything but sex.  As I'm someone who has been very prone to guilt my whole life, I felt the need to confess to my home ward bishop.  

After the bishop listened to my confession, he advised me I should tell my Dad.  I said thanks, but no thanks, and that I was fine with just confessing to him.  He proceeded with several more attempts to get a verbal agreement out of me to tell my Dad, but I was adamant in not doing so. We left it at that.  Before I left I asked him if my confession was confidential which he said yes.  

The next Sunday in Priesthood Quorum we had a special visit from the bishop with him telling us that if we commit a serious sin, we should tell our parents.  I had a good feeling this was related to me.  Even though he did not break confidentiality to the specifics of my confession, I felt this was going a little too far.  I confessed in good faith.  I felt this issue was between me, my girlfriend, the bishop by necessity of confessing serious sins, and Lord the only.  No one else had been affected or offended by these sins.  I had already told my girlfriend we needed to slow our roll, which she agreed, and I told her sorry for being involved with her that way.  

Anyway, brushing past the Priesthood Quorum incident, the very next Sunday my Dad was apparently stopped in the hall by the bishop.  The bishop told him that he should talk with me about something.  My Dad asked what it was, and the bishop simply stated that my Dad and I should talk.  The next day my Dad says let's take a drive and he tells me about what the bishop told him.  Again, the bishop didn't openly break confidentiality but I felt like he had crossed a line.  Is this typical behavior by a bishop?  Was this a one-off situation?  Should I worry about confidentiality being pushed to the edge with future confessions?  Does this happen only to teenagers?

Edited by clbent04

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Sounds to me like he was encouraging you to have an open line of communication with your parent/s, especially as it relates to living the Gospel. He was helping to strengthen you and your family in the best way he knew how. Had you followed his counsel, he wouldn't have felt obligated to say anything to your dad.

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I think what he did was wrong. I get that he thought your parents should know, but he all but told your dad. Yes, I do think he violated your confidence.

When I was a teen, if I had confessed something to my Bishop I wouldn't have wanted my dad to know either. My dad, an alcoholic red neck would probably have said, "So what? Thats normal for teens."

If my teen confessed something like that to me I would ask if he had talked to the Bishop. 

So, yeah I think the Bishop went too far.

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39 minutes ago, seashmore said:

Sounds to me like he was encouraging you to have an open line of communication with your parent/s, especially as it relates to living the Gospel. He was helping to strengthen you and your family in the best way he knew how. Had you followed his counsel, he wouldn't have felt obligated to say anything to your dad.

I can appreciate that especially through the perspective of a parent.  What parent wouldn't want an open line of communication with their kids?  But through the eyes of a teenager?  Oh no no no no.  That's terrifying to a 16-17 year old to all of a sudden have to question the confidentiality agreement you thought you had with your bishop.  

Even though he didn't openly break confidentiality, he hinted at the very thing I thought was to be kept strictly confidential.  Is hinting not a form of breaching confidentiality?  Again, I get the whole desire that a parent would want to have an open line of communication with their kid, especially a teenager going through this phase.  But confidentiality shouldn't be breached in any form at the expense of wanting to have that open communication.

Are confessions received by a bishop therefore only subject to casual confidentiality, and not strict confidentiality?

Edited by clbent04

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47 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

I felt this issue was between me, my girlfriend, the bishop by necessity of confessing serious sins, and Lord the only.

And your bishop gave you pointed advice -- not merely advice, but important counsel, which you proceeded to blow off. That's on you, not him.

48 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

way, brushing past the Priesthood Quorum incident, the very next Sunday my Dad was apparently stopped in the hall by the bishop.  The bishop told him that he should talk with me about something.  My Dad asked what it was, and the bishop simply stated that my Dad and I should talk.  The next day my Dad says let's take a drive and he tells me about what the bishop told him.  Again, the bishop didn't openly break confidentiality but I felt like he had crossed a line.

I don't know. Perhaps he did cross a line he should not have. But there is no doubt that you failed to do what your bishop -- the common judge in Israel -- counseled you to do in order to remove the stain of sin from your soul. So again, the main theme here is not about your bishop. It's about you.

Why did you even bother to tell your bishop, anyway? If you were planning on ignoring what he had to say, what's the point? Because you're "supposed" to? I mean, I suppose that's a good motivation when contrasted with not talking to your bishop. But it's like telling someone to read the Book of Mormon, so he does so, but doesn't pray or attempt to change his life to conform to it. What good does it do him? Similarly, what good to confess to the bishop and then ignore him?

Your father is your Priesthood leader, especially in your childhood and youth. He is not merely a leader by inspired calling, like a bishop or even a quorum adviser; he is a leader by divine right. He is your patriarch. Until you reach adulthood, it is primarily his duty to lead and guide you. You short-circuited that relationship, despite your bishop pointedly instructing you to include him in your repentance.

52 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

Is this typical behavior by a bishop?  Was this a one-off situation?  Should I worry about confidentiality being pushed to the edge with future confessions?  Does this happen only to teenagers?

To answer your question, I don't believe this is typical behavior. But I think you should quit worrying about the bishop's actions altogether, and instead worry about your refusal to follow inspired Priesthood counsel.

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10 minutes ago, LiterateParakeet said:

When I was a teen, if I had confessed something to my Bishop I wouldn't have wanted my dad to know either. My dad, an alcoholic red neck would probably have said, "So what? Thats normal for teens."

bahaha very similar to my experience when I told my Dad what happened in the car that day.  I was terrified to tell him nonetheless because I thought he would have an equally strict response as the Church does to these kind of things.  His response?  He was happy to know that I was "working" or functioning at full capacity as a human being haha.  He grew up Baptist and wasn't 100 percent Mormon even after marrying my Mom

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12 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

I can appreciate that especially through the perspective of a parent.  What parent wouldn't want an open line of communication with their kids?  But through the eyes of a teenager?  Oh no no no no.  That's terrifying to a 16-17 year old to all of a sudden have to question the confidentiality agreement you thought you had with your bishop.  

Even though he didn't openly break confidentiality, he hinted at the very thing I thought was to be kept strictly confidential.  Is hinting not a form of breaching confidentiality?  Again, I get the whole desire that a parent would want to have an open line of communication with their kid, especially a teenager going through this phase.  But confidentiality shouldn't be breached in any form at the expense of wanting to have that open communication.

Are confessions received by a bishop therefore only subject to casual confidentiality, and not strict confidentiality?

He didn't break confidentiality at all.  He heavily heavily encouraged you and your dad to talk.  Yes, for a teenager that can seem like the end of the world, but it's really a good thing. 

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41 minutes ago, Vort said:

But there is no doubt that you failed to do what your bishop -- the common judge in Israel -- counseled you to do in order to remove the stain of sin from your soul

So you're saying he counseled me to relay my confession to my dad as a means for me to receive forgiveness? Now my dad, a third party completely unrelated to the sins that I confessed, is necessary to confess to for me to receive forgiveness? Do you know where that even falls within the guidelines of the Church for making restitution?  I don't see how that makes sense or restitution for the sin.  And I don't think that was the bishop's intention either to make it a qualifier for my forgiveness.  I interpreted his advice to tell my dad as a good idea, not a recommendation that my forgiveness was dependent on.  The repentance counsel he gave me that day was to read some scripture passages he wrote down for me and to meet with him on two other occasions.  That was actually the counsel he gave me upfront specifying saying I needed to follow through with for the repentance process.  After that, he brought up the suggestion to tell my dad.  And it was just that, a suggestion 

Edited by clbent04

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38 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

So you're saying he counseled me to relay my confession to my dad as a means for me to receive forgiveness? Now my dad, a third party completely unrelated to the sins that I confessed, is necessary to confess to for me to receive forgiveness? Do you know where that even falls within the guidelines of the Church for making restitution?  I don't see how that makes sense or restitution for the sin.  And I don't think that was the bishop's intention either to make it a qualifier for my forgiveness.  I interpreted his advice to tell my dad as a good idea, not a recommendation that my forgiveness was dependent on.  The repentance counsel he gave me that day was to read some scripture passages he wrote down for me and to meet with him on two other occasions.  That was actually the counsel he gave me upfront specifying saying I needed to follow through with for the repentance process.  After that, he brought up the suggestion to tell my dad.  And it was just that, a suggestion 

If I understand correctly, it is Church policy, maybe even a commandment from the Lord (and is expressed in For the Strength of Youth, conference talks I have heard, etc.) that minors living at home are supposed to confess serious sin to their parents as part of the repentance process, just like how married men have to confess this stuff to their wives to complete the process.

I think the bishop was trying to do you a favor, so that your efforts in confessing the sin to him would not be completely in vain.

Edited by DoctorLemon

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2 minutes ago, DoctorLemon said:

If I understand correctly, it is Church policy (and is expressed in For the Strength of Youth, conference talks I have heard, etc.) that minors living at home are supposed to confess serious sin to their parents as part of the repentance process, just like how married men have to confess this stuff to their wives to complete the process.

Well if that's the case, I feel better about the situation. As long as it's applied as a general guideline for minors and I wasn't singled out. Anyone have the exact reference to this?

4 minutes ago, DoctorLemon said:

I think the bishop was trying to do you a favor, so that your efforts in confessing the sin to him would not be completely in vain.

Not sure I understand this part...

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45 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

So you're saying he counseled me to relay my confession to my dad as a means for me to receive forgiveness?

Yes, more or less.

46 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

Now my dad, a third party completely unrelated to the sins that I confessed, is necessary to confess to for me to receive forgiveness?

Quit changing the wording, clbent. That's what we call "moving the goalposts".

Why do you confess your serious sin to the bishop? After all, the bishop does not -- cannot -- grant forgiveness. Only the Lord can do that. I see three distinct reasons why the bishop is involved in repentance from serious sin:

  1. The bishop is the common judge in Israel. It is his duty (among many others) to determine your status in the kingdom, how you are allowed to participate or even whether you are allowed membership at all. When you fornicate or commit other sexual sin (or any other type of sin) of a similarly grave nature, you may no longer hold membership in the kingdom. That decision is the bishop's burden. Your duty, if you wish to be clean before God, is to go to the bishop for judgment.
  2. The bishop is called to be a counselor for his flock, and especially toward those who transgress God's commandments. He is given the keys of leadership and the gifts of the Spirit such that he can counsel people in sin on how they should proceed. This duty to counsel is not as obvious as the duty to judge, but in many cases is just as crucial. In your case, the bishop gave you specific counsel, which you rejected. More on that below.
  3. The bishop can receive revelation in your behalf, in both of the above capacities. He can even let you know when you are cleansed and right with the Lord -- though hopefully you will know that by your own personal revelation, as well.

Your bishop acts in what is known as an "inspired calling", given by Priesthood authority. He holds keys of Priesthood leadership that enable him to act in that capacity.

Your father acts in what is known as a "divine calling". He needs no keys of external Priesthood leadership conferred on him; those exist in him as a natural extension of his position as a father in Zion. The well-being of his children is one of his primary duties.

Your father should have been involved in your repentance. Your bishop knew this, of course; that is why he counseled you to tell your father what was happening.

I understand your reluctance to tell your father. I actually sympathize with you, believe it or not. But I am no longer a callow teenager. I am a middle-aged man and a father, and I speak the truth as I understand it, based on my learning and my own experiences. And in this matter, I am most confident that I am correct. Whether your father "had" to be involved for your repentance (he did not) is irrelevant. It was his duty and his place, and you refused that opportunity when (rightfully) counseled by your bishop to do so. However you felt at the time, and however much I may sympathize with the teenage you, it was wrong. Period. At some point, we need to reach a level of spiritual maturity where we recognize and admit truth, even when we don't like it.

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20 minutes ago, clbent04 said:

Well if that's the case, I feel better about the situation. As long as it's applied as a general guideline for minors and I wasn't singled out. Anyone have the exact reference to this?

Not sure I understand this part...

Some of it is here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2002/10/the-greatest-generation-of-missionaries?lang=eng  This is the raising the bar talk by M. Russell Ballard, where he says that repentance is supposed to involve the parents.

I remember my old copy of "For the Strength of Youth" having a part saying that, if you are a minor living at home, you need to tell your parents if you committed a sin that requires confession.  I think the newer FTSOY pamphlet focuses less on pitfalls and more on good things you should be doing, so I am not seeing the sentence "you need to tell your parents" in there.  But no, you were not singled out by your bishop.

 

Edited by DoctorLemon

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3 minutes ago, Vort said:

Whether your father "had" to be involved for your repentance (he did not) is irrelevant. It was his duty and his place, and you refused that opportunity when (rightfully) counseled by your bishop to do so. However you felt at the time, and however much I may sympathize with the teenage you, it was wrong. Period. At some point, we need to reach a level of spiritual maturity where we recognize and admit truth, even when we don't like it.

If this is the case, I think it would be fair to minors to receive some kind of disclaimer before confession: "If you confess to a serious sin as a minor, you are supposed to confess to your parents as well as part of the repentance process".  But to not put any kind of disclaimer out there when confessions are understood to be strictly confidential can be damaging. This could jeopardize one's trust in the Church when the promise of confidentiality ends up having an asterisk at the end of it leading to a footnote you never knew about

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1 minute ago, clbent04 said:

"If you confess to a serious sin as a minor, you are supposed to confess to your parents as well as part of the repentance process".

"If you confess to commit a serious sin as a minor, you are supposed to confess to should seek the counsel of your parents as well as part of the repentance process".

FTFY.

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5 hours ago, clbent04 said:

Thanks @Vort 

“All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.” (D&C 83:4). I think this applies to spiritual as well as temporal matters, which clearly intersect in societal legal/judicial/criminal systems. Without appropriate parental guidance and involvement, escalating experimental and bad behavior can lead to all sorts of terrible consequences for youth and all those associated with them (illegitimate birth, abortion, custody; addictions, gang affiliation, jail time; etc.), even future generations.

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7 hours ago, DoctorLemon said:

I think the bishop was trying to do you a favor, so that your efforts in confessing the sin to him would not be completely in vain.

7 hours ago, clbent04 said:

Not sure I understand this part...

Many people get the mistaken notion that confession = repentance.  No.  It is merely a step.  The confession is the opportunity for the bishop, as a neutral third party, to advise you on how to complete the process.

"The process" is a complete change of your attitude toward the sin in question.  From the sound of it, you haven't finished the process.  It is not simply "not doing it again" (although that is a huge step).  The final goal is for you to change your heart, your mind, your spirit, so that you are worthy of the Celestial Kingdom.  If you're still remembering those acts with some level of fondness, then you haven't changed.  Working it through with your parents is supposed to be a step for them to help you.  

The reason why your parents are supposed to be a part of that process is that your sin was in part because they didn't teach you right.  It was an opportunity for them to make that right and correct their teaching.  Apparently, your father did not avail himself of that opportunity.

Remember that the Church is never a replacement for the home.  It is to help and guide.  The teaching you about the law of chastity is supposed to be in the home.  Your parents failed.  Thus you failed.  That isn't an excuse for you to be absolved of guilt.  Because you obviously knew enough to confess to the bishop.  But it is a contributing factor for which your parents will have to answer.  It's all part of a bigger picture than "I had to tell my dad about it."

Edited by Guest

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I think many people are confused by how the church handles confessions.  I feel that many get their ideas from Hollywood's depiction of Catholic priests and are naturally upset when it does not work that way.  Lets start with listing who is expected to keep Confidences.

Bishop

Bishop's Councilors

Stake President (There are more at the Stake Level and beyond but I am focusing on the Ward Level)

Ward Clerks

Any one from the Presidencies that sit on Ward Councils

That is a lot of people.. why do we have so many people (especially given that they are all human and can make mistakes)?  Because while everything is focused and directed by the bishop his is just one man and he sometimes needs help to help you.

So lets run some examples of why these "other" people might get involved

Lets say someone present and issue to your bishop and he just doesn't know what to do?  He goes to the Stake President. (Also for cases involving the Melchizedek Priesthood)  The Stake President is responsible for over seeing the Wards therefore being made aware of what is happening is well within their stewardship.  Thus the bishop in order to help the person can reach out to the Stake President.  Both of whom need to keep the details confidential.

Lets say another person goes to the Bishop and needs to draw on Fast Offering funds (Food orders, Bill payment, LDS Family services)  This involves the clerks.  Since this involves church funds their is the danger of misuse/embezzlement so the Clerks need to be clued in enough to know what is legit and what is questionable.  Plus they document any official church disciplinary action and adjust the membership records as needed.  Thus depending on the needs the clerks might gain some understanding of what is going on.  They are expected to keep the details confidential.

The Councilors, they are the bishop's right and left hand.  They sit in on official bishop level disciplinary council. Even without the council sometimes they need to be given a certain level of awareness so they can do the right thing.  They are expected to keep the details confidential.

Sometimes the Bishop need to involve the Priesthood Quorums, the Relief Society,  Primary, etc in which case they need to also be given a certain level of awareness so they can do what the bishop expect.  They are expected to keep the details confidential.

Please note that I am not saying that whatever you say to your bishop is automatically known by every one on the list, because that is not the case.  The bishop in figuring out how to best help someone decides who needs to know and how much.  Experienced Bishops will tell you what they think needs to be done and who else needs to be in the loop, so that it is not a surprise.

For minors (as in this case)  there are many moral, ethical and legal issues in dealing with them and their parents.  So the bishop needs to tread carefully.  Parents can and should be the biggest help for a minor.  The Bishop made the call that the parents needed to be involved and told you this, and even gave you the opportunity to inform them of this.  You did not, so the bishop did.

 

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10 hours ago, LiterateParakeet said:

I think what he did was wrong. I get that he thought your parents should know, but he all but told your dad. Yes, I do think he violated your confidence.

When I was a teen, if I had confessed something to my Bishop I wouldn't have wanted my dad to know either. My dad, an alcoholic red neck would probably have said, "So what? Thats normal for teens."

If my teen confessed something like that to me I would ask if he had talked to the Bishop. 

So, yeah I think the Bishop went too far.

Disagree.  Completely.  I can't even believe I'm reading this.

In a family of parents and children, the FATHER, if he has a righteous priesthood, is the Patriarch of that house and has the moral AUTHORITY more so than the Bishop.  @clbent04 should have confessed to his Father first.

A teen not wanting to talk to his Father is a denial of this Priesthood (and parental) authority and should be treated as an unrepentant kid who needs to learn more humility and discipline.

Now, if the Father abdicated his rights as a Patriarch through unrighteousness, then the Bishop will be the next in authority over that family.

 

Edited by anatess2

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10 hours ago, LiterateParakeet said:

I think what he did was wrong. I get that he thought your parents should know, but he all but told your dad. Yes, I do think he violated your confidence.

When I was a teen, if I had confessed something to my Bishop I wouldn't have wanted my dad to know either. My dad, an alcoholic red neck would probably have said, "So what? Thats normal for teens."

3 minutes ago, anatess2 said:

Disagree.  Completely.  I can't even believe I'm reading this.

In a family of parents and children, the FATHER, if he has a righteous priesthood, is the Patriarch of that house and has the moral AUTHORITY more so than the Bishop.  @clbent04 should have confessed to his Father first.

That's just it, isn't it?  Is the father a worthy priesthood holder?  Is he presiding over his home with the guidance of the Spirit?

If he is exercising unrighteous dominion, then it would be horrific to have to tell him about it.  If not, then it is appropriate.  The bishop is supposed to be in a position to know.  We could say that we all make mistakes.  But is it a mistake to "expect" the father to be a worthy priesthood holder? He should be.  If not, should that be on the head of the bishop?

Lots of questions that I don't have the answers to.

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5 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

That's just it, isn't it?  Is the father a worthy priesthood holder?  Is he presiding over his home with the guidance of the Spirit?

If he is exercising unrighteous dominion, then it would be horrific to have to tell him about it.  If not, then it is appropriate.  The bishop is supposed to be in a position to know.  We could say that we all make mistakes.  But is it a mistake to "expect" the father to be a worthy priesthood holder? He should be.  If not, should that be on the head of the bishop?

Lots of questions that I don't have the answers to.

The Bishop - that the teen confessed to, so the teen must feel he has a righteous priesthood - decided that the Father has the authority.  'Nuff said?

In any case - authority or not, Church or not, even in secular settings... THE PARENTS have the authority over their children.  Any government that undermines that authority (e.g. teens wanting an abortion are told they don't have to tell their parents, Canada crafting a law that parents who deny their kids hormone theraphy and transition surgery can be sent to jail, etc) is eventually going to break the very foundations of society.

Edited by anatess2

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11 hours ago, clbent04 said:

Is this typical behavior by a bishop?  Was this a one-off situation?  Should I worry about confidentiality being pushed to the edge with future confessions?  Does this happen only to teenagers?

These are understandable questions, but I'm not sure any of us here can answer.  I don't think we have any bishops posting here.

In your case, the Bishop obviously thought it was best if you told your dad.  You can consider your experience as a man of God, a judge in Israel, someone set apart to help you apply the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ in your life, someone with special access to spiritual promptings regarding you and your specific situation - was telling you to do something.  You shouldn't brush aside his advice, just because you don't wanna follow it.

I will say that I've been involved in a handful of disciplinary matters over the decades, either as executive secretary, ward clerk, or poor dude sitting in the hot seat.  My experience leads me to believe that the only behavior typical by a Bishop in these situations, is that they typically do their best to follow the spirit and do what's right.  They have three guiding principles: Help the member repent, protect people from harm, preserve the good name of the church.  How those principles get applied, is a case-by-case thing.

Edited by NeuroTypical

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