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True, LARobert. A medical professional has a duty and an oath to save a life. If someone confesses that they will take a life, or take their own, they are duty bound to prevent it and report it — but only to save a life.

However, I was thinking “after the fact” of a crime. You and I have no obligation to report a crime until or unless we are questioned about it by the police. You do not have to come forward, but if approached you cannot lie and obstruct an investigation by holding back what you know. And a doctor has doctor/patient confidentiality until or unless the patient signs a HIPAA release to disclose anything in those medical records, after the fact.

I agree that there’s a legal argument and religious argument here for your example of someone who assists in interpreting or signing a confession to a priest. My argument would be that the seal of the confessional extends to the person assisting the priest in understanding the confession.

When I do legal work, at times I have had my boss extend his attorney/client privilege to me, as a non-attorney, in writing. Acting as an “agent” of my boss give me privilege and I cannot be called to testify against a client, or assist in an investigation of his client, with anything I might have learned while interviewing the client for him.

A sound legal argument could be made should such a case arise whereby an “agent” for the priest assists in the confession and the priest’s obligation would extend to the agent used to assist in the confession for that purpose only. I think the government might be hard pressed to break the seal of the confessional by doing an end run around a priest via the agent who assisted him.

From a secular point of view, to attempt to do so violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Aside from my adversion to seeing government trying to backdoor themslelves into the confessional, from a secular standpoint I believe government has no place in interfering or “changing” religious practices, such as the sacrament of reconciliation. [Edited to add that the government has no place in religion until or unless the religion violates secular law. For example, a religion that uses certain accepted illegal practices in the name of religion (but we are not addressing that here)].

It’s assumed that anything I learn during the course of my work is still attorney/client privilege — his privilege extends to me. Further, he uses foreign language interpreters for his non-English speaking clients. The translator or signer is also instructed not to converse with the client, other than to relay the questions and answers, and to not add anything or ask questions of their own. It’s as though they are not in the room. In fact, it is considered poor form for the attorney and the client to look directly at the interpreter during translation (other than for signing) as the translator is a facilitator. I know of not one who was called to testify against the client.

However, there is one case that comes to mind where an Arabic interpreter then became a willing participant in crimes. That was the case where the convicted blind Sheikh, who is imprisoned, was assisted in furthering the Sheikh’s crimes when the interpreter brought out messages (which only he could understand in Arabic) to people on the outside. However, in that case the interpreter went on to commit new crimes while interpreting and he lost “privilege.”

If the interpreter or signer for the priest then used the information learned in the confessional to go on to commit other crimes, by use of that knowlege obtained, then the privilege would also then be broken.

Interesting question and discussion.