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The deathbed confession of an 1853 murder

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Alex Cochran, Deseret News

This article was first published in the ChurchBeat newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

I learned a great deal while I spent several days researching and writing an in-depth look at religious and legal views of the confessions people make to bishops and other clergy. Not all of it made it into my story.

Let me share an amazing story that I had to leave on the cutting-room floor, so to speak. But first, here are the first two paragraphs of my article. I hope you’ll read it and benefit from what I found:

Priests, pastors and bishops from various faiths say both sides of an apparent collision of ideals are sacred to them: protecting children from all forms of abuse, and keeping confessions confidential so penitents feel safe and motivated to acknowledge and stop their sinful — and sometimes criminal — behavior.

The tension between doctrines about confessions and the impulse to protect children through mandatory reporting laws raises important legal, societal and religious questions about how religious leaders try to focus on and prioritize rescuing victims of abuse while also providing spiritual help to the person who has confessed.

I came across this story as I researched the doctrines of numerous faiths about confessions, including Catholicism’s belief in the confession seal, which is that they are so sacred a priest should be excommunicated automatically for revealing the identity of the person or the content of his or her confession. I learned some priests had been sainted for keeping confessions confidential despite the torture of the inquisition or other sufferings.

This true story about a priest in Kyiv was striking. Here’s what I wrote, but had to cut out of my story for relevance and space:

A killer walked into the chapel and stashed his murder weapon behind the altar, then walked into the confessional and told Father Jan Kobylowicz that he’d killed a man.

Afterward, the assassin lied to a local judge, saying that he’d seen Father Kobylowicz carry the shotgun into the church in Kyiv on the day of the murder. Bound by the inviolable Catholic seal of confession, Father Kobylowicz refused to testify on his own behalf and was convicted of murder, defrocked and sent to prison in Siberia.

On his deathbed two decades after the 1853 murder, the real killer admitted he had used the confessional seal to frame Father Kobylowicz, but it was too late. Father Kobylowicz had died in prison two months earlier.

My recent stories

Should a member of the clergy report sex abuse by the penitent? A look inside the priest-penitent privilege (Aug. 19)

What the bishops knew: Church releases details, timeline about Arizona sex abuse case (Aug. 17)

About the church

In a short new video, President Russell M. Nelson described how temples are a symbol of Jesus Christ.

Where in Africa is the church growing fastest?

BYU has been the top Stone-Cold Sober school for almost a quarter century. But the Princeton Review rebranded that title this week. Even with a new brand, BYU’s still No. 1.

Elder Quentin L. Cook’s BYU Education Week devotional address: Give heed to the words of the prophets.

Elder Clark G. Gilbert explained at BYU’s Education Week why the Church Educational System must have the courage to be different.

Kate Holbrook was an excellent historian, writer and interviewer for stories about Latter-day Saint history. She died last week from a rare form of eye cancer. This story about her death includes some of what she told about the importance of women’s history to the history of the church. I spoke with her then for a piece about the efforts she and other women historians were making within the Church History Department to round out church history by learning more about women in the church’s past and including them in numerous publications, including “Saints.” Here’s another piece on her passing, from the Church News.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong narrated a new church inspiration video about inviting all to the Savior’s inn.

See the first photos of the interior renovation of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.

Church leaders broke ground on a second temple in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Six Latter-day Saint meetinghouses in Utah were vandalized, with graffiti saying predators are welcomed in them. “Abuse is not welcome here,” two people wrote in response in a piece with unique perspective on the church’s efforts to stop sexual abuse.

The family of a Latter-day Saint Little League World Series player has seen miracles after he fell from a bunk bed in the team’s dorm before the first game.

A former Idaho sheriff pleaded guilty for pointing gun at a Young Women group doing service.

What I’m reading

When I was a boy, Tom House was a pitcher on my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, and the guy who caught Hank Aaron’s home run that broke Babe Ruth’s record. Then he became the greatest coach of throwers in history. Nolan Ryan. Tom Brady. Randy Johnson. Now he’s started a new free app that uses artificial intelligence to study video you upload and provide feedback on how to help you or your child throw better. It’s called Mustard. Great article here.

From the Can-You-Believe-This file: A Texas school district removed the Bible from its school libraries.

How often does the Justice Department investigate churches? The country’s largest Protestant denomination is currently under investigation for its handling of a sexual abuse crisis.

Behind the scenes

Historian Kate Holbrook speaks during a worldwide “Face to Face” broadcast outside the Nauvoo Illinois Temple in 2018.

Historian Kate Holbrook speaks during a worldwide “Face to Face” broadcast about Latter-day Saint history from the foot of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and historian Matt Grow on Sept. 9, 2018.

Intellectual Reserve, Inc.