I once knew a member of the clergy who warned parishioners that if they told him about anything illegal, he'd be compelled to report them. Now, usually when I confess my sins they're of the variety where the state doesn't have an interest. But it's probably a good idea to clarify whether your confessor is bound to secrecy or not. Now, what happens if you confess something to your pastor and then disappear? And your husband is on trial for your murder? The Chicago Tribune reports on an interesting case out of Illinois. As police officer Drew Peterson's trial is about to start, a judge ruled that a "suburban pastor" can testify about a counseling session during which Peterson's wife Stacy said her husband asked her to provide a false alibi for where he was when his previous wife (his third) died:
The defense, however, was dealt a setback when the judge ruled that [Pastor Neil] Schori could testify about an August 2007 counseling session in which he says a tearful Stacy Peterson admitted to lying to police after Savio was found dead. According to Schori's testimony during the hearsay hearing in January, Stacy Peterson hugged her knees to her chest as she told him that she woke up to find her husband missing the night before Savio's body was found.
She tried calling his cell phone, but he didn't answer. Peterson returned after midnight, dressed in black and carrying a bag of women's clothes that didn't belong to Stacy Peterson. He dumped everything in the washing machine, Schori testified.
Schori also told the judge that Stacy Peterson said Peterson coached her "for hours" on what to say to police and that she lied to investigators at his behest.
Stacy Peterson, then 23, asked her pastor not to report her false alibi, Schori testified, because "it wouldn't do any good" given that Peterson was a decorated police officer.
The defense has tried to tarnish Schori's credibility, questioning why he broke his public silence on national television instead of in a courtroom. Schori has said he went on Fox News after Stacy Peterson disappeared to raise awareness.
This is all really good information but nowhere do we learn the name of the congregation or denomination, if any, to which Schori belongs.
Now, I believe this story was breaking news when it first ran. Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear describes her colleagues' story on the judge's ruling as an "exclusive."
So while I would really like a discussion of the given church body's understanding of confession, I can understand it not being there yet. The name of the congregation and its affiliation would sure help, though.
Brachear had a brief blog post looking for a discussion, which doesn't seem to have happened yet, asking "Should all conversations with clergy be confidential?:"
Courts have ruled repeatedly that clergy-client conversations are confidential. In the past several years, as awareness about sexual abuse has grown, states have added clergy to the list of mandated reporters. But this case did not involve sexual abuse of a minor. It involved murder.
In my church body, pastors are required to keep confessions confidential. They take this extremely seriously, as they must according to our understanding of the importance of confession and absolution. But I don't know about other conversations. I'm assuming that different church bodies have different understandings of this issue and it might be nice to use this case as a hook to explore it.
One thing I like about the Tribune blog is that Brachear will bring in an expert voice to discuss some angle to a hot religion news topic. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Metro Chicago Synod Bishop Wayne Miller wrote a brief piece in defense of having the pastor testify.