C of E Upholds ‘Seal of Confessional’

The decision goes against the recommendation put forward by Archbishop of York

The Church of England (CoE) has decided to uphold the confidentiality of confession in child sexual abuse cases. A working party, commissioned by the CoE, decided against the qualification or the abolition of “seal of the confessional.” This decision goes against the recommendation given by the Archbishop of York. There is hope though: a different conclusion can come through if CoE bishops react in a different manner when they go through the report published by the group. The current decision stops confessions of all criminal acts to be automatically notified to the police.

The light of scrutiny fell on the seal of the confessional in 2018 during an independent inquiry into hearings of child sexual abuse in Anglican churches. It is anticipated that concerns will be brought to the fore during further hearings scheduled to take part in July. As per lawyers, it is possible to stop clerical abuse of priests had notified law enforcement their heard confessions. The matter was raised as early as 2014, when John Sentamu, one of the top clerics in the CoE, argued the seal must not get applied in cases of child abuse. The members of the working party within the Anglican church who arrived at a decision agreed on this principle. One member, Mark Sowerby, the deputy lead bishop related to church safeguarding, admitted of “legitimate concerns” regarding the seal of the confessional. He is also the bishop of Horsham.

Members of the working party failed to attain common ground on this issue. The recommendation at the end of its proceedings is to train priests on how to manage criminal acts disclosures. The guidelines of the church are clear on this issue. It states that if a person discloses during confession of committing or participating in a serious crime like abuse of a child, then the priest who listened to the penitent must ask the concerned person to report the conduct to any statutory authority like the police. In-case the penitent refuses to take this action; the priest must withhold absolution.

According to Sowerby, a responsible priest would take the confessional opportunity to influence the penitent to make sure all criminal disclosures will be shared with police. He also said, however, the priest will not report the crime himself. Unlike Scotland or England, the Government of Wales introduced the legislative duty in 2016 where every person must report child abuse to law enforcement.

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