Do chaplains keep what I tell them confidential?

If you’re facing an ethical concern and not sure where to turn to for assistance, chaplains can help. In fact, chaplains are a resource available to Military Service Members and their families facing any number of dilemmas. Maybe you’re feeling fatigued because you’re managing things at home alone during your spouse’s deployment. Or you’re enduring some trouble in your relationship in part due to your service. Perhaps you’re single and finding few resources not oriented toward families. These are all concerns the chaplain and chaplain’s office can help you with. Keep in mind everything you tell a chaplain remains private. Chaplains don’t keep records, and they’re bound to keep confidential anything you discuss together.

It’s safe to share information with chaplains because they have what’s called “privileged communication” status. This means by both law and practice, conversations with chaplains about personal worries and religious needs are private conversations. Chaplains hold what you tell them “in confidence.” That means you can speak with a military chaplain or a chaplain’s assistant about any personal matter or religious practice without fear they will tell it to others—like your command. Legally, chaplains and chaplain assistants cannot share what you tell them without your specific permission.

There’s only one conversation with a chaplain that is exempt from the privileged communication status: If you do what is called a “mandatory interview for conscientious objectors,” you must meet with a chaplain for an interview. This interview is for Military Service Members who think they can no longer serve due to religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs. Before the interview, the chaplain is required legally to explain your conversation is not privileged, which means it can be shared with other people. Outside of this one instance, the chaplain cannot and will not disclose your conversation to anyone or even mention you spoke.

It’s up to commanders to ensure chaplains have the office space needed to guarantee confidentiality when talking to unit personnel. This means you not only have access to a chaplain, but you also have the right to space in which you can hold a private and privileged conversation with your chaplain. This privacy is unique to chaplains, while behavioral health and other professionals are legally required to disclose certain concerns without your permission. Chaplains are trained and ready to discuss a wide variety of topics and concerns, so you have access to both a subject-matter expert and a confidential consultant in the same person. No matter your concern or need, your chaplain will have your six.

Learn more about the different branch policies: