Working party upholds seal of confession law

A Church of England (C of E) working party says the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops must decide if  C of E church law should change so priests can breach the seal of confession.

The working party’s focus was on whether the law could be changed to enable priests to report the abuse, or suspected abuse, of children and vulnerable adults.

As is the case in the Catholic church, the seal of confession is the priest’s obligation under canon law to hear a person’s confession of sin, or imagined sin, in complete confidence.

Nothing the priest is told in that context will be repeated or disclosed under any circumstances.

The working party’s report was completed in 2017 and has a publication date of March 2018 – but was released only on Wednesday last week — more than a year later.

It does not make any recommendations (which would be brought before the General Synod) either to abolish or to change canon law on the issue, because the working party could not reach agreement.

It states: “The decision whether to invite the General Synod to legislate on this matter is one for the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council.

“Had the members of the group reached a common mind on that issue, we would have included an appropriate recommendation in this report. Unfortunately, despite much discussion, we have failed to reach that common mind. We can only offer our report to the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council to assist them in reaching a decision.”

The report recommends better training for clergy, diocesan safeguarding officers and senior clergy.

In addition, it recommends the appointment of a “Bishop’s Adviser in the Sacramental Ministry of Reconciliation” in each diocese, and that resources should be posted on the national C of E website which “fully explain the nature of the Sacramental Ministry of Reconciliation, including explanatory material for penitents”.


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