09 April 2010
The confidentiality of a confession
As a matter of history, even Jeremy Bentham believed the law ought to recognize priest-penitent privilege. He had no sympathy for the Catholic Church, and he was generally against privileges. Nonetheless: Bentham wrote, in "View of the Rationale of Evidence," that though the government of a rational society will be happy to see Catholicism fade away, it will not use coercion against it, and that the imprisonment of priests for refusing to share confessions would be precisely that.
He also said that the presence of a "spiritual guide and comforter" for persons who are so misguided as to go to a Roman Catholic priest to confess, is a good thing, tending to the prevention of future crimes, and to "the disposing of the penitent to make reparations for mischief done by misdeeds already perpetrated." This benefit would be lost were the evidentiary privilege not extended.
Bentham, interestingly, had no use for the institution of a lawyer-client privilege, which has no such positives in the utilitarian balance.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.