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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: "Mystified in the Midwest" wrote that her pastor's wife has a big mouth and confides things about people who see her husband for counseling.

You advised that the wife be told that her gossip could end her husband's career -- and that if it continues the pastor should be told.

Abby, you failed to address the person who bears the primary responsibility for the breach of confidentiality in pastoral counseling, the pastor. He should not discuss the contents of his counseling sessions with anyone in the congregation, including his wife.

He might, under some circumstances, appropriately discuss this content with a colleague for purposes of supervision or consultation. In such cases, however, he can take steps to protect the privacy of the counselee.

Instead of confronting the pastor's wife, "Mystified" should confront the person ultimately responsible for the leaks -- the pastor! If his behavior does not change, the writer should discuss the matter with whomever bears responsibility for overseeing the pastor's ministry. -- THE REV. KATHERINE F. LONG, FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, GRAPEVINE, TEXAS

DEAR REVEREND LONG: You're right. Doctors, psychotherapists, physicians, social workers, lawyers and members of the clergy all have a professional responsibility to protect their patients', clients' and parishioners' confidentiality. (The exception to this is if the person is suicidal or a danger to himself or others.)

DEAR ABBY: Fifteen years ago, at our pastor's urging, we were to confess our sins during a church service to our designated prayer partner. My sin, I confessed, was that I was having "out-of-wedlock sex." (I was a 40-year-old divorcee at the time.)

My prayer partner quickly told her husband, who told the pastor, who told his wife. The latter two paid me a visit and I was put out of the church. The emotional trauma of this action was devastating.

"Mystified's" pastor had no right to disclose what he was told to his gossiping wife, just as my prayer partner had no right to blab my sin to her husband. The church I attended dissolved. -- STILL HURTING IN HOLLIDAYSBURG, PA.

DEAR STILL HURTING: I don't blame you for feeling traumatized. Your confidence was violated, and then you were publicly shamed. I'm not surprised that the church eventually dissolved. By the time they were finished evicting "sinners," there was no one left to attend.

DEAR ABBY: One quick question: What are the telltale signs of a cheating spouse? -- SUSPICIOUS TEXAN

DEAR SUSPICIOUS: A few to ponder:

1. Secretiveness.

2. A sudden change in manner of dress and grooming.

3. Unexplained absences.

4. Less affectionate.

5. Unfamiliar charges on credit card bills.

6. Strange phone numbers on phone bill.

7. Hang-ups on your home phone.

8. More business trips than usual.

While one or two of these could be innocent, if there are four or more -- look out! Readers, care to add any?

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