Letter: Confidence in the confessional

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Breaking the code of absolute silence' (28 December) raises such important issues that it invites further comment. You quote the discipline of the Roman Church: that of the Anglican Church is no different:

We . . . do straitly charge and admonish him (the Minister), that he do not at any time reveal and make known to any person whatsoever any crime or offence so committed to his trust and secrecy . . .

Such confession is, of course, different from anything that takes place between a patient and a psychiatrist because it is no part of a medical person's work to absolve people from their sins. The cardinal sin of Judas Iscariot was not the betrayal of Jesus Christ (certainly not a crime in the eyes of the state): it was the conviction that such an act was unforgivable, which led to his suicide. If the question has to be decided on the balance of 'public interest' (a concept as slippery as 'political correctness'), then what has to be weighed is the value of having people to whom the distressed and sometimes desperate can talk in absolute confidence.

Such listeners are, as you point out, not only ordained ministers but also doctors, lawyers, medical and social workers, and a host of lay people, including Samaritans. If it were common knowledge that these people were not trustworthy, but could at their discretion pass on what they hear to officers of the law, then the whole apparatus of organised listening to troubled souls would collapse. The effect of that is incalculable.

Yours faithfully,

M. A. H. MELINSKY

Norwich

28 December

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