“I Confess”: You’re the Bishop (Poll # 15)

by: Bishop Bill

January 1, 2012

You are sitting in your office after church one Sunday, and a young woman (16 yrs old) from another ward that meets in your building asks to speak to you.  She is a long time friend of your daughter, and has been in your home many times over the years.

She sits down, and proceeds to confess to you that she has had sex with her non-member boyfriend.  She tells you she has since broken up with the boy, and feels really bad about it.

The first words out of your mouth are that you are not her bishop, and she needs to talk to her own bishop, as you don’t have any jurisdiction over her repentance.  She tells you that she does not like her bishop, and she will not confess to him.  She is afraid that he will make her tell her parents.  You talk to her for over an hour, but are unable to convince her to talk with her bishop.

Over time, even though you have spoke with her several more times, she still refuses to talk to her bishop.  She has also told you not to tell anybody.

The state you live in recognizes your position as minister, and as such you are authorized to receive confessions from practitioners of all faiths.  State laws thus recognize her confession as Priest–penitent privileged communication, and you are prohibited by law from telling anybody the content of her confession without her permission. The only exception is if she is a danger to herself or others, or if she was molested.  None of these situations apply as the boy she had sex with is her same age, and the sex was consensual.

It is now a year later, and she still attends her ward regularly, and participates in YW leadership positions and attends temple youth baptisms.

You're the bishop. What do you do (Poll #15)

  • You do nothing. God is her ultimate judge. (47%, 75 Votes)
  • You continue to be friendly to her, but always take the opportunity to urge her to talk with her bishop. (42%, 67 Votes)
  • Strongly hint to the girl's bishop that he needs to talk to that girl about her worthiness without disclosing the content of what she said to you. (11%, 17 Votes)
  • God’s laws are more important that man’s laws, so you tell her Bishop, even though you risk prosecution. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 159

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38 Responses to “I Confess”: You’re the Bishop (Poll # 15)

  1. NewlyHousewife on January 1, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I choose the “be nice but tell her to talk” option but am now regretting it.

    Since it’s been a year, chances are she has moved on and has gone through her own personal repentance. Just be glad that she told somebody who could have offered a helping hand if needed (for example, if she got an STD hopefully my brain would have been screwed onto the “lets go get you a prescription” side).

    This is one thing I sometimes dislike about the way the church does confessions. There have been bishops who I wouldn’t tell a thing to simply because I could not trust them.

    So I guess in a way I feel like I should have seen the fact that she told me this as a sign of respect and trust. Plus, its nice to have trust with a child’s friend–with the hope that if my child were in any danger said friend would tell me.

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  2. Paul on January 1, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    The alternative you left out was that the bishop could seek counsel from the stake president; there may be another alternative for the young women. In the end you cannot force her to do anything. BTW state law notwithstanding, if she tells you to tell no one ( or if she does not give you explicit permission to tell someone) you cannot reveal any details of your conversation with her, even to the SP.

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  3. Jeff Spector on January 1, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    I agree with paul. There is a way to discuss this generally with the SP without breaking a confidence. But in the end, this Bishop is pretty powerless to do anything except encourage the girl to talk to her Bishop. Not liking someone is not a good excuse, but at that age, it plays a big role in her decision making. It is true of some adults as well.

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  4. whizzbang on January 1, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    in her mind she may be thinking “why bother telling anyone, he obviously didn’t freak out so it can’t be that bad so if it happens again then keep my mouth shut” or possibly as was stated confessing the situation was therapuetic and she got on with her life. One of the things I don’t like about the whole confessing scene is when someone does something worse then you and they get off with nothing and yet you get in trouble for doing something far less worse all from the same bishop.

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  5. Bob on January 1, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    #3: Jeff,
    Not wanting to talk or confess what I feel was my young sexual error to someone I don’t like is ‘excuse’ enough for me.

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  6. LAinCT on January 1, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    Hopefully this is really only a hypothetical situation. If not, the cat is out of the bag since someone will be able to figure out who this person really is…

    So, hypothetically speaking, the first thing the Bishop has to teach is what true repentence involves and how confession plays a crucial role in it.

    I spent 6 yeats as a Bishop and dealt with situations where sexual sins were committed and people wanted to repent. I saw some who fully repented and some who held some things back from the Lord, by trying to do things their way instead of the Lord’s way.

    I know it might sound a bit odd, but it’s been my experience that incomplete repentence leads to incomplete healing. The beauty and true miracle of the repentence process is that the Savior’s healing is a real thing and it can and will be complete — but only if it is done his way.

    The young woman in this case is not yet fully repentant. Hopefully she has “moved on”, foresaken the sin and will never do it again. But there is a pretty good chance that the day will come when she will feel it fester up inside of her. It could affect her feelings of worthiness to go to the temple or the joy she ought to feel in what will hopefully be her temple marriage.

    My guess is that what the Bishop might want to do in a case like this is to stop the confession before it is fully given. It would also be a good thing to try and secure permission to talk to the Stake Presiednt about the matter, or even send the girl to the Stake President. Doing so would not be an attempt to “pass the buck” but would be a way of keeping things within the lines of authority that the Lord has established.

    And under almost all cases like this she should talk to her parents too. But the parents might need coaching too, since parental overreaction could make things more difficult. An amazing thing about the Atonement is that the “collateral damage” from sin can also be healed. And since parental foregiveness must follow a child’s confession and repentence, the parents have a chance to gain a deepened understanding and testimony of the atonement too.

    It can be a difficult thing to go through, but the blessings are profound for all involved. And in the end, all involved are much closer to the Lord.

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  7. Mormon Heretic on January 1, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    I think Bishop Bill should add an “other” option to these polls. I find that I frequently do not agree with any of the options listed.

    If the girl trusts him, is there anything wrong with having her go through some repentance with Bishop Bill rather than her geographical bishop (I understand it is not church policy, but could there be a spirit of the law thing going on here?) If she’s willing to confess to a bishop she trusts, rather than her own, couldn’t Bishop Bill counsel her as if she were a member of his congregation, or at least offer some suggestions to complete the repentance process? In that way, something productive could come of the confession, rather than simply shoving it under the rug as “not my problem.”

    There is a woman who attends my ward even though she is technically out of our stake. A special arrangement has been made to put her records in our ward. Sometimes these geographic boundaries are arbitrary (as they are in my stake), and it’s pretty silly that geography plays such a role in which ward you attend. I don’t know why this woman wants to attend our ward so badly, but obviously there is a story there. When boundaries changed and she got a new bishop, the new bishop transferred her out, but she’s back in our ward again.

    I admit that as a single adult, I ward-hopped like crazy and attended and paid tithing to a ward out of my geographic boundary because I was more comfortable with church leadership.

    Now I know it will be near impossible to get the girl’s records in Bill’s ward, but I’m definitely talking about a spirit, rather that letter, of the law resolution here. Why can’t Bishop Bill try to help her through the repentance process if the girls trusts him and not her own bishop?

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  8. LAinCT on January 1, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    One more thing—repentence only works when it’s voluntary. No one of us can force another to repent. Remember the old saying “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still…”

    Nevertheless the language of Nephi is that we are commanded to “persuade all men to repentence”…

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  9. whizzbang on January 1, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    Sometimes Bishops are known to overreact as well as parents, I think it was Pres. Faust that said the way you correct someone might be worse then what you’re correcting. I was talking earlier today with a former Bishop and he mentioned something that he thought was a horrible thing to do and made some joke about having to see the Bishop and I wouldn’t have even thought it should be a Bishop’s care in the world.

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  10. LAinCT on January 1, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    To Mormon Heretic …your last question is a good one. In my humble (but correct … :) ) opinion, there are reasonable circumstances where it would be best for the girl to work with Bishop Bill. The most important thing in this situation is the complete repentence of the girl who sinned. Such authorization would need to come from the Stake President.

    One can of course appreciate that this “Bishop hopping” should be an inspired exception rather than the rule. One can easily imagine the chaos that might ensue if we were simply allowed to pick any Bishop we liked — especially since confession for a serious typically comes at the front end of the repentence process.

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  11. LovelyLauren on January 1, 2012 at 6:46 PM

    It seems to me that one’s opinion on this comes from whether they value geographical boundaries more than repentance. With the SP’s permission, I see no reason why she couldn’t go through the process with Bishop Bill.

    I attend a ward out of my boundary because it’s full of younger married couples instead of 90% old people and I feel more welcomed and comfortable there. The bishop bore his testimony (seriously) of boundaries, but we kept coming and eventually they added us to the roll. I see why the boundaries exist, but in this situation, I see no real reason why the young women couldn’t have Bishop Bill counsel her and help her repent.

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  12. dba.brotherp on January 1, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    I’m with MH on this one. I think people easily confuse Church policy and procedure with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bishop should be grateful that the girl trusted him and he should continue to be available to the girl.

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  13. hawkgrrrl on January 1, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    I agree with both LA in CT and with MH on this one. I think repentance with caveats is not necessarily repentance. I’m not a big fan of confession, but there is benefit to counsel and having a sounding board when you are off course. This girl is kind of doing the motions of that in going to the other bishop, but because he’s not counseling her personally, she’s not really getting through the process.

    Yet I agree that the geographic boundaries are kind of arbitrary and administrative method to determining how someone receives pastoral care and counsel. And there is no question that while some bishops are gifted and inspired, some bishops are extremely bad at this stuff or do more harm than good. There can also be personality conflict or personal circumstances that prevent trust.

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  14. Paul on January 1, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    All the more reason to involve the SP — he can give BB aughorization to handle, and he can learn the other bishop needs some support and training, too.

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  15. Ryan on January 2, 2012 at 1:41 AM

    In my state, and I suspect most states, the priest-penitent privilege is a rule of evidence that applies in a litigation context and prevents a “priest” to be examined regarding a confession he received. It does not prevent the priest from contacting another priest about a member of the second priest’s congregation. You might be looking at a confidentiality issue, but I think it would be unlikely that disclosure of that type of information to another priest would be a legal problem.

    Also, my understanding is that child rape laws can be violated by minors. You don’t get a free pass to have sex with minors just because you are one. Considering the girl’s age, I think you’d be required to report the incident since it may constitute statutory rape.

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  16. Ray on January 2, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    My first thought was the same as Ryan’s last point in #15. Given the girl’s age, I think you need to find out the boyfriend’s age, first and foremost, to find out if it’s considered rape.

    After that, I would talk with my Stake President (in most cases) and ask for advice, without sharing the name of the girl or any other identifying information – even that she is a “friend of my daughter” and has “been in my house many times”. In a stake that is outside the Mormon corridor, that could narrow down the possibilities a lot.

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  17. Anselma on January 2, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    I’ve never quite understood this, but since bishops are not authorized to grant absolution, why are members supposed to confess to them? What do they actually do?

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  18. jmb275 on January 2, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Perhaps not quite pertinent to the OP, but I’ve had at least two Bishops violate my trust and confidence by sharing confession related information about me between themselves. It really pissed me off. I didn’t make a big stink about it (although perhaps I should have).

    So in that light, I would strongly discourage the “tell the other bishop” option. I do like what MH said, though little red flags go up for me any time we start discussing young women counselling with bishops about sex related sins. Perhaps “counseling” in this case could just be limited to regular spiritual checkups of some kind without any real talk of the sin at all. If that was the case I see even less reason to consider the church policy.

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  19. ji on January 3, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    It’s a year later? Do nothing, but wish her well when you see her.

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  20. Douglas on January 3, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    This man’s hands are proverbially tied, since he isn’t her bishop, even though he is one. He has no Priesthood calling to help this girl, period. And frankly, since it seems unfathomable as to how innocents or the Church as a body could be harmed simply because she enjoyed all the rides at her erstwhile BF’s private amusement park…it has to be left up to the girl to grow up and accept counsel from the appropriate authority.
    Hawk is spot on that some Bishops suck at counseling. Part and parcel of an informally-trained lay priesthood; you pays your money and takes your chances.

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  21. Cowboy on January 3, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    I think it would depend on the circumstances. Do I know the girls parents? Are they the reasonable and responsible sort? In other words, I would be looking for how to get other better situated adults into the conversation. I believe kids/teenagers/etc, deserve to have some of their wishes respected, but not to be treated as though they were completely adults. Regardless of whether I was told this in confidence, I would generally like to get the parents involved even if the girl in question objects. She may try and threaten some kind of legal action, but in most cases I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. It’s that golden rule thing again. If I knew my daughters friends parents were privy to this kind of info and didn’t tell me, I would be very upset. What is the failure to disclose equivalent of “them’s fightin words”?

    The only objection I would have to that approach would be if for some reason the parents were abusive, etc. It would be quite sad for the young lady to continue in this behavior believing she has you painted into a corner of silence. Particularly if violating her trust was ultimately in her long-term better interest. This should be a no-duh for most rational adults, I would think. I would not generally get the other Bishop involved…but then again, I would discourage the general idea of disclosing anything of this nature to your neighbor simply on account of local ward dynamics.

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  22. Bob on January 3, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    #20: Douglas,
    “Am I my brother’s Bishop?”. Yes! One has meetings and rules to keep everyone on the same page. But when you are face to face with someone in need__you help.

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  23. el oso on January 3, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    If this girl was not in a youth calling and did not attend the temple, it would be no big deal.
    I would follow up with her to tell her that a break from callings and temple attendance is frequently advised in this situation. This is one of the primary reasons that your home ward bishop is preferred for confession.
    There have been youth in our ward that were in similar situations, but most people did not know. They just did not go to the youth temple trips, but at that age, there are many other possible conflicts like work or other activities.

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  24. Toni on January 3, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Why not just ask God what to do? He may very well break the rules and tell you that the confession was sufficient.

    Doing baptisms for the dead is probably not a good idea until she’s had some time to recuperate from the sin – but it’s up to the Spirit to help. We need bishops who are courageous enough to do what the Spirit directs, even if it goes against the handbook.

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  25. Douglas on January 4, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    #22 (Bob) – you utterly misunderstand. There’s nothing that prevents the man from being a compassionate brother to a sister that obviously needs guidance. But sage advice is about all the man can do. Her own bishop is the one called by proper authority to serve her needs. Both the young sister AND those that are ostensibly well-meaning but often lacking humility need to “suck it up” and work within the system. Let the Lord make up for the deficiencies of His servants, and show some faith…

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  26. Bob on January 4, 2012 at 3:41 AM

    #25: Douglas, I have seen too much pain in my life and others than to rely on “called by proper authority to serve her needs “. I just assume the girl is folowing her Spirit, and is seeking help from someone she trust. That’s how I show my faith.

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  27. UnderCover Brother on January 4, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    Hi all –
    First time posting here, so please be gentle :-)
    I first wrote a long response, but as I have thought about it more I’ve tried to boil it down to:
    1) Speak to your SP urgently and get advice from him. Tell him (hypothetically, if needs be) what’s gone on and what he would do to resolve. He should have seen something like this before so will know the best way to move forward. He should also be aware of local laws, etc so he will counsel accordingly.
    2) Speak to the young woman and give her urgent counsel. Tell her you will be speaking to the SP and seeking direction from him on this matter and you will act as per his instruction. You have to be unambiguous. No excuses. This should have been done at the beginning. A year is far too long.
    3) Know that she has NOT repented. You can tell by her actions as she has not confessed to her Bishop. Over the course of the year, she will have seen her Bishop possibly 4 times (twice as a Laurel, once for Temple recommend interview and once for her calling). I think we can all agree that she would not be worthy to go to the Temple or serve in a calling if she had confessed to her Bishop what she said to you. She would have to have lied to be deemed ‘worthy’ (and is comfortable with it). And you are complicit in this. That is not fair on you or the young woman. And you should not be left to carry the burden alone.
    4) Never put yourself in that position again. Whether you like it or not, the youth talk to each other. The last thing you want is you sitting in your office, and another 16 year old from her ward asks to speak with you and says, ‘you saw a friend of mine a year ago, and she said I should see you…’
    As I once heard a Bishop say, ‘If you have not offended someone as a Bishop, you have not been a good Bishop.’ Tough words, I know. But those who have served as a Bishop will know them to be true.

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  28. Bob on January 4, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    #27:UnderCover Brother,
    IMO, you are giving way too much respect and power to someone just because they are MY Bishop or SP.
    If this girl got the help she needed, so what if she tells her friend with the same problem to see this other Bishop for help?

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  29. Cowboy on January 4, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    “If this girl got the help she needed, so what if she tells her friend with the same problem to see this other Bishop for help?”

    Bob – You are talking about lay leadership, who are not trained or generally socially positioned to help this girl. Even if things happen to work out, you don’t want to extend yourself in the broader society this way. First, when you begin hearing the confessions of those outside your Ward, you are completely on your own. I’m not big on the idea of ecclesiastical confession in the first place, but at the very least when an LDS youth confesses to their local Bishop, that Bishop (hopefully) has the support of the parents, the Ward, the Stake leadership, and if needs be, the Church HQ. It is at very least a strong network that does have capabilities to help somewhere, particularly LDS counselling. That’s hard to do when you become a free-agent counsellor. I have personally seen this one train wreck with a Bishop who began to fancy himself as a marriage counsellor to people at work.

    A second and more concerning issue to me is the focus on repentance. I understand that some people see this as important, but I would think that the immediate concern is a young lady having sex when she neither emotionally, socially, or financially, prepared to handle the consequences. Nor is she prepared to be making these kinds of decisions more rationally. She is a teenager! I would suggest that the first priority ought to be the safety of this young lady, after which that has been adressed seeking religious absolution is between her and hopefully her parents. Even if that means confession to a Bishop, but as it currently stands I think the priorities are a bit out of whack.

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  30. UnderCover Brother on January 4, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Hi Bob,

    Where does it say she got the help she needed?

    I didn’t see it as ‘respect and power’, but as ‘responsibility’. As Bishop, he has a responsibility to discern which of the youth is worthy to enter the Temple example), as he has the ‘keys for this. He now knows there is someone who has entered the Temple and participated in ordinances who was not worthy. As a Bishop, he has a responsibility to deal with it the best way he can. He cannot stand idly by and let this happen, or do you think he should?

    If she got the help she needed, it’s resolved, right?


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  31. Bob on January 4, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    #29: cowboy,
    You make some good points. But going INTO the situation, if the girl has no trust in her Bishop__there will never be a confession or call for help by her within that Ward, knowing she would be sent to that Bishop.
    Your call.

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  32. Paul on January 4, 2012 at 11:44 AM


    There are several kinds of “help” the young sister needs:

    1. She needs to humble herself and submit to her Father in Heaven’s will. I’m not recommending the “guest” bishop be the one to chastise her forcefully, but in the end, that’s what she needs to do in order to be forgiven by God (nevermind the church / worthiness issues). It may be that she has forsaken her sexual behavior in the intervening year, and if so, that is good for her, and a step in the direction of submitting to her Father in Heaven’s will.

    2. She needs guidance from competent adults about the consequences of her sexual behavior. Ideally those adults should be her parents, but many, many teens won’t want their parents to be those people in their lives at a time like this (and many, many parents have no idea how to respond). Obviously, since a year has passed, she wasn’t pregnant. But there may be other physical and emotional consequences that are worth exploration with competant professionals.

    3. As far as the church is concerned, the nature of her action would suggest that some kind of church discipline is called for. You may disagree with that idea, but it’s pretty pro forma stuff as far as church administration is concerned. And the conduit for that action is someone who has that stewardship, namely her bishop or her stake president, not a “loaner” bishop. In the end, however, no one can force her to talk to her bishop. Her not doing so may, in fact, contribute to whatever emotional (or spiritual) distress she might need to resolve.

    As I said before, another plus of going to the SP is so that other bishops can get training to be approachable and kind in such circumstances to avoid having those who need to see the bishop be more willing to do so.

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  33. Bob on January 4, 2012 at 6:10 PM

    #32 Paul,
    ” As far as the church is concerned, the nature of her action would suggest that some kind of church discipline is called for”.
    I am against a Bishop hearing a confession and the giving out “penance “,(Voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for some wrong doing).
    A” competant professional” would tell her to get passed her guilt, and not beat herself up over it.

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  34. Paul on January 4, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    Bob, I figured that’s where you are. I agree that’s what the professional would say. And a compassionate bishop would have a chance to help her through whatever guilt she may feel because of her alligience to the church. (In her case — young person, no temple covenants, etc) it’s likely there is very little in the way of “penance” to restore her to full fellowship, assuming she is repentant.)

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  35. Paul on January 4, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    Er, “allegiance”…

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  36. ji on January 4, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    no. 30: “As Bishop, he has a responsibility to discern which of the youth is worthy to enter the Temple…”

    I would edit this to read, “As Bishop, he has a responsibility to discern which of the youth [IN HIS WARD] is worthy to enter the Temple.” He has no keys over youth of other wards.

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  37. Cowboy on January 5, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Bob #31:

    I agree, but think about the implication. You are ultimately suggesting that a person with no particular training ought to hold themself out to the general public as a sex counselor for teens. First and foremost, the only thing a Bishop can do for this teen is guide them through the LDS repentance process. That is it! That is far from the immediate concern. Second, it takes a rather contorted view of LDS practice and doctrine to think that you can even help in this spiritual process by overstepping the bounds of your Priesthood. If you believe that you hold this authority from God, then you might as well respect the bounds set by that God…don’t you think? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I’m not suggesting that the father/Bishop in this scenario execute a callous trade-off to the girls Ward Bishop and parents. I think he can show concern, and ought to take the time to hear her story – because you are right, she trusted him enough to feel safe enough to tell him – but that he shouldn’t take that as his right to overstep every other rightful authority in the matter. Of course the exact circumstances, which are fairly generalized in this hypothetical, will heavily influence the proper course of action. But as a general rule, he should recognize that she came to him because she trusted him to do the right thing, so that’s what he should do. Protecting her “privacy” should not trump keeping her safe, particularly if that means keeping her safe from her own adolescent decision making with regard to sex.

    Now, to be clear, if we were talking about an adult confession here, I would generally take a completely opposite stance. In that case, respecting her privacy would be of the highest importance.

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  38. Heber13 on January 8, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    I like the “you’re the Bishop” threads, it’s cool to think about hypotheticals on how to handle things.

    But this one is a bit weird to me. If I’m not her bishop and don’t have jurisdiction or keys for revelation regarding matters for her, why would i even talk to a 16 year old friend of my daughter’s come talking to me about specifics of her sex life?

    If I was 16 years old, I can’t imagine going to talk to my friend’s dad about my sins, especially if I was in their home a lot.

    But even if the immature 16 year old did want to talk, thinking there was something special about all bishops, I couldn’t talk about it with her, and especially not without my wife present. As the adult, it wouldn’t be appropriate. I’d want to help by getting her to find the right adults she can trust to talk about it, but that wouldn’t be me. To her, I’d be just her friend’s dad. It would feel weird.

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