Confidentially Speaking (Weekend Poll)

By: wheatmeister
November 9, 2013

What if disclosing the information prevents further sin by other parties? What if the information is truly juicy?

Confidentiality is all about trust.  In the Catholic church, if priests reveal information others won’t trust that their confessions will be confidential and may choose not to confess (leaving them in a state of sin).  Likewise, Mormons expect confidentiality when they speak to a church leader.  Do all parties in bishop’s interviews deserve full confidentiality or just confessing members?  How do we hold leaders accountable to prevent abuse of power?  Do third parties discussed deserve confidentiality?

Who should expect confidentiality? (choose all that apply)

  • The member has a right to confidentiality and privacy of any remarks made to an ecclesiastical leader. (84%, 52 Votes)
  • Anyone in a leadership position should be expected to bear scrutiny and should be held accountable to prevent abuse of power. (76%, 47 Votes)
  • Both the member and leader have a right to expect the conversation will not be repeated or recorded unless otherwise stipulated. (45%, 28 Votes)
  • The leader has a right to not have his words taken out of context or shared with others, including the media. (39%, 24 Votes)
  • Creating transcripts or recapping confidential ecclesiastical discussions is not acceptable because we have a lay clergy. (29%, 18 Votes)

Total Voters: 62

Loading ... Loading ...

What examples of people breaking confidentiality have you observed?  What were the consequences?


Tags: , , , , ,

14 Responses to Confidentially Speaking (Weekend Poll)

  1. JC on November 9, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    My perspective comes from the last 20 years serving in bishoprics, high council, bishop & stake presidency. I made my share of mistakes, errors in those callings when confidentiality was involved. None were willful or gossip related that I can recall. I wish I had spoken more hypothetically at times. When faced with very challenging issues and anxiously seeking good counsel, I sometimes would reveal identities to a higher authority, hoping perspective would enable effective counsel. None of these were when the person explicitly requested confidentiality. If called again (forbid!), I would approach ward, stake counsels in a way that didn’t reveal identities or too much sensitive data unless I had that person’s permission or the data was well known already. The handbook is explicit about this, yet errors continue with the human handling of precious information. Ignorance and human error are most at fault, IMO. This topic needs more attention in the training of bishops, etc. There is a good deal that could be said about this topic to the entire membership. Too frequently, I found others subtlety trying to pry info from me regarding others, though sometimes the context was to truly attempt to help and bless. The Spirit and discernment is critical to the overall approach.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  2. ji on November 9, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    Anytime anyone talks about someone else, there is a real potential for a problem. The gospel is all about talking to people, not about them.

    If a leader and a member have a confidential discussion, and the leader thinks he might later want to discuss what the member said with higher-ups, the leader should ask the member’s permission.

    If a leader and a member have a confidential discussion, and the member thinks he might later want to discuss what the leader said with family and friends, the member should ask the leader’s permission.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  3. ji on November 9, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    “None of these were when the person explicitly requested confidentiality.”

    I think the general presumption is in favor of confidentiality. People enter into these discussions with a presumption of confidentiality. Regarding a member and a bishop or stake president, the burden is not be on the member to explicitly request confidentiality — the presumption is already there, and should be respected unless the leader specifically obtains the member’s permission otherwise. Really, it is so very easy for a leader to ask the member, “I’d like to try to find some help in this matter — is it okay with you if I discuss it with ___?” So easy. If the member says no, well, no means no. The leader might reasonably endeavor to obtain permission, but if not, well, no means no.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  4. el oso on November 9, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    Many leaders will quote scriptures or other well known documents when discussing issues in private. These quotes are probably “public” types of communication. Specific and individual counsel from leaders should generally be kept private unless agreement is obtained to share it.
    Individuals should have the expectation of total privacy unless the issue is such that referral to a higher authority is specified in church policies. If so, this should be mentioned by the leader before the interview is finished. Those who serve as bishop’s counselors are likely to get this a lot.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  5. Jesse on November 9, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    As a member, I never assume confidentiality. I do not discuss confidential matters with church leaders until I am comfortable with the idea that everyone in the ward will soon know all of the details. The “condoned gossip sessions” (PEC, Ward Council, etc…) that happen every Sunday morning are a large part of my hesitance to share.

    I also do not share with visiting teachers, home teachers, or (more recently) friends from church–because our culture encourages sharing personal information so that we can better “serve” each other. I’m not willing to put people in the uncomfortable position of having information about my needs that I have asked them not to share with church leaders.

    I agree with ji that “Anytime anyone talks about someone else, there is a real potential for a problem. The gospel is all about talking to people, not about them.”

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 12

  6. Jack Hughes on November 9, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    I remember in a ward council meeting a few years ago, the bishop revealed some information about a member in an effort to help us reach out to him; while he kept the explicit details confidential, he still revealed enough so that anyone with basic deductive reasoning skills could have figured it out (it was pretty serious, and something you definitely wouldn’t want shared publicly if it were you being talked about). Anyone not smart enough to figure it out, though, would have inferred something much worse. In any case, the member and his wife have lapsed in activity and have not returned.

    Are bishops and other leaders required to sign confidentiality agreements, or something similar? In ward councils I have served in, confidentiality was never really brought up, just kind of accepted as a given. I don’t think we take it seriously enough, as professional clergy and other occupations (doctors/lawyers/therapists) do.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  7. jcc on November 9, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    Great comments. I wish I would have more education from all of you while being a young bishop deluged with many problems and diverse personalities. Overload is easy to achieve. I think most leaders won’t share if transgression is involved, otherwise plenty of clues are given out in ward councils. As I said, I would do things differently.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  8. hawkgrrrl on November 9, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    It’s interesting, but I think the expectation of privacy is insufficiently strong in our church. I do think bishops are fairly likely to discuss details upward in the hierarchy without telling the member and to say things that are fairly telling, even if accidentally, in ward council meetings. In short, I’m not sure members are treated with as much consideration as they should be in these cases.

    I think it’s more rare for bishops to “gossip” outside of those official or hierarchical settings, although I know of cases when this has happened. One bishop was discussing a teen’s confession with his wife in their kitchen, not knowing that the girl’s family was sitting in the next room waiting for tithing settlement, hearing the whole thing.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  9. wonderdog on November 10, 2013 at 4:06 AM

    While I was serving as bishop, my wife asked if I knew that at the dinner table that a sister in the ward was expecting. I said “Yes” and she asked why I didn’t tell her. I replied that she told me during a temple recommend interview and I had not been given explicit approval tp share the information.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  10. Geoff - A on November 11, 2013 at 1:47 AM

    I questioned some of the assertions of my HP group leader on gay marriage. When I next went for a TR interview both the Bishop (who refused to sign my recommend) and the Stake President (who insisted the Bishop reconsider) had copies of the emails we exchanged with the parts the HP group leader thought showed my lack of support for the leaders, underlined in red.

    All I did was question his assertions, I did not express support for gay marriage, but this was enough to start what looked like a conspiracy to prevent me holding a TR.

    He has since told me I should not hold a TR and it would be better if I didn’t come to church, but he is a great supporter of “rescuing”.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  11. Douglas on November 11, 2013 at 2:33 AM

    #8 – YIKES!!!

    #10 – Both the Bishop and the HP GL need a “talkin’ to…”. Even though I don’t know the details of your conversation(s) about gay marriage et. al., AFAIK, one’s position on gay marriage is not a barometer of worthiness. “Supporting your leaders” doesn’t mean saluting every wild-arsed notion that each member up the food chain expresses. Be “better” if you didn’t come to Church? Good grief, are your THAT disruptive? I have to say in some 35 years of membership I’ve seen all kinds, but I’ve not known anyone getting booted from Church attendance (not even I after some months ago telling off my SP in a manner which frankly was NOT in keeping with normally accepted decorum in an LDS meetinghouse). You must have a solid testimony to keep wanting to go to Church with those boors.

    We have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The question becomes culpability in event of ecclesiastical malpractice. Of course, if a bishop screws up we should keep the seeking of recourse within the Church to a reasonable extent. If a man uses his position to ruin a member that he doesn’t like, then, IMO, a phone call to an attorney might be in order. Let’s hope it never comes to THAT.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  12. Jeff Spector on November 11, 2013 at 4:59 AM

    I think there is an expectation of privacy and confidentiality when talking to a Church Leader. How good they keep that expectation is a function of their own integrity and the emphasis placed on it by the upper leadership.

    I don’t think Ward Council and PEC are gossip sessions. I hope they aren’t. I see a genuine desire to help people. MY Bishop is really good at revealing on the essential information to get the leadership to move in the right direction regarding helping one of the members or families.

    As the Ward Clerk, I know a lot, but not everything. If I need to know, I ask. If he thinks I should know, he tells me, otherwise, he doesn’t and I’m OK with that.

    But, I find, members do tons more blabbing about themselves then the leaders do about others.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  13. brjones on November 11, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    I think the expectation of privacy, and the philosophy that members and leaders should speak “to” someone and not “about” them is a difficult line to hold in a church that cares as much about the people who aren’t there as those who are participating. The missionary aspect of the church, both with respect to potential converts as well as less-active members, necessitates discussing people without their knowledge or consent. Frankly, the same is true for ministering to active members. It’s simply not possible to achieve two of the three missions of the church without talking about people behind their backs. The only real argument against this is to claim that church leaders don’t have the right or authority to engage in such discussions, which obviously is not the case. One would hope that church and auxiliary leaders would do so with an eye toward protecting privacy and with consideration for the individual being discussed, but since leaders are given fairly broad discretion in how to manage their respective stewardships on a micro-scale, I don’t think there’s much room to criticize the practice.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  14. Exponent II April on November 13, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    It is not appropriate for the lay leader to expect confidentiality from the person interviewed, especially when interviewing minors. When my children attend interviews, I will tell them that the bishop/interviewer is expected to maintain confidentiality, but that the youth is not, and is welcome to discuss anything the interviewer says to them with me or my husband afterwards. I teach my children that adults should never ask children to keep secrets for them and if they do ask for such a thing, they should tell me immediately. Adults who ask children to keep secrets for them may be grooming children for abuse. Lay leaders should assume that anything they say to rank and file members, whether in the context of a private interview or in public, could be repeated.

    I do research professionally and part of the requirements to get an interview study approved by IRB is that participants’ responses must be confidential. There is not an expectation that a participant must keep the researcher/interviewer’s words confidential.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting


%d bloggers like this: