In the previous post regarding the book, Sophie’s Choice, I referenced a fine paper by Dr. Beverly Yahnke. A couple of people raised questions about whether she was advocating the breaking of the confessional seal in the second to last paragraph of her paper. I took the liberty of contacting her directly about this, and this was her response:
DarkMyRoad invited me to review the most recent postings regarding my paper,”The Taxonomy of Despair” and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the very appropriate concern raised regarding confessional privacy.
As one who treaures the practice of individual confession and absolution, I prize the confidentiality of the confessional and would never recommend that any pastor violate the privacy promised the penitent.
For the record, the Saint Louis speech was addressed to parish nurses, church workers of all stripes, family, friends and pastors of the despairing. Every single one of those individuals should seek external professional assistance to respond to a person who is acutely suicidal UNLESS that information is offered as part of individual confession and absolution. In that case, the pastor is always bound to protect the privacy of the penitent. (I presumed that point to be obvious to the pastors in attendance; hence did not feel the need to dwell on the matter.) I should underscore that most of the time, as the paper suggests, individuals in end stage self-loathing and seeking escape are not seeking an opportunity for conversation or confession. They are barely tolerating any care of any sort. In fact, the most frequent conversation about end stage despairing individuals often takes the form of a pastor who learns from a friend or a family member that a soul is dangerously pre-occupied with suicidal thoughts or self-loathing. If the soul refuses care and remains at risk, I believe that the pastor must act to provide appropriate safety in seeking care for the mentally ill — whenever the seal of the confessional does not prohibit it.
Dr. Bev Yahnke
There you have it. Does that make sense?