FORWARD in Faith has said it will ‘resist as strongly as we can any attack on the integrity of sacramental Confession’.
This comes after the Diocese of Canterbury issued a statement following enquiries about the Diocesan Safeguarding guidelines in relation to Confession.
Diocesan Secretary, Julian Hills, said in a statement that ‘while there have been only a tiny number of criminal cases in which the seal of the Confession has been in issue, it is unclear whether a criminal court would favour the responsibility to protect someone from abuse or the requirement of a priest to maintain confidentiality’.
He emphasised that ‘safeguarding children and vulnerable adults must be our highest priority and is at the heart of all our responsibilities’.
He explained that the decision for the diocese to issue guidance on the Confessional ‘arose out of a genuine situation where, during Confession, a penitent shared with priest information about on-going abuse’.
“In this case, the legal and moral position of the priest was called into question. It was therefore felt by the Diocesan Safeguarding Management Group that clergy must have clear guidance on how to manage situations where the seal of Confession may be brought into conflict with their safeguarding responsibilities.”
He said that the guidance has not – as some have claimed – ‘abolished the Seal of the Confessional.’ “It is intended to advise the penitent not to divulge in Confession something which would legally compromise the position of the priest – and therefore require that priest to choose between their responsibility to protect someone from harm and the usual requirement of confidentiality,” he added.
He explained that the guidance was drafted in early 2015, after seeking independent legal advice and in consultation with the then Acting Head of Delivery for the National Safeguarding Team. The issue is due to be discussed by the House of Bishops in December.
This statement relates to a section on page 33 of the Guide
lines where the Bishop emphasises that:
‘No priest should hear Confession on a regular basis unless he/she is under the discipline of the Confessional themselves (ie Confession is part of their own spiritual practice and they are under supervision)’.
“Any priest hearing a Confession, regularly or otherwise, must say prior to hearing that Confession the following statement of confidentiality and safeguarding:
‘If you touch on any matter in your Confession that raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding of another person or yourself, I am duty bound to pass that information on to the relevant agencies, which means that I am unable to keep such information confidential.’
But Forward in Faith have said that ‘for a diocese to pre-empt synodical discussion of whether any aspect of ecclesiastical law should be changed is unacceptable’.
“Incredibly, the Diocese of Canterbury has denied that this instruction – which is cast in very wide terms indeed – has effectively ‘abolished the Seal of the Confessional’,” they claim.
They have called for ‘urgent action’ to bring the Diocese of Canterbury and the Channel Islands deaneries ‘back into conformity with canon law and with the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy so recently issued by the members of the Houses of Bishops and Clergy in the provincial Convocations’.
They explain that the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy issued in 2015 by the Convocations of Canterbury and York state (in paragraph 3.5): ‘If a penitent makes a confession with the intention of receiving absolution the priest is forbidden (by the unrepealed Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603) to reveal or make known to any person what has been confessed. This requirement of absolute confidentiality applies even after the death of the penitent.’
“If the Diocese of Canterbury is allowed to continue publicly to incite the clergy to breach canon law, that will set a very worrying precedent,” Forward in Faith added.