(Daily Mail) C of E may axe 400-year-old sacred law to let clergy report serious crimes

For centuries the secrecy of the confessional has been sacrosanct, but the Church of England may relax the rules to allow clergy to reveal serious crimes such as child abuse.

Former Bishop of Chelmsford John Gladwin ”“ who last year led an inquiry into clerical sex abuse in the Church of England ”“ is pressing for the changes, along with members of the Church’s ”˜parliament’, the General Synod.

But any change will be fiercely resisted by traditionalists who think clergy should retain the trust of worshippers. It will also cause tensions with Roman Catholics, who believe the seal of the confessional should remain inviolable.

Bishop Gladwin’s moves follow a decision by the Anglican Church of Australia to allow its priests to report crimes they hear during confession to the police.

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13 comments on “(Daily Mail) C of E may axe 400-year-old sacred law to let clergy report serious crimes

  1. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    Confession is basically a dying sacrament in the Anglican church anyway, so what does it matter?

  2. Ad Orientem says:

    Indeed. Most Anglicans, excepting the High Church types, have never really signed onto confession sa a sacrament at all. In any event why bother with it? Holy Communion has already been reduced to something only a half step removed from an empty ceremony. And sin is concept that is clearly alien to the CofE.

    File this under “big deal.”

  3. Ad Orientem says:

    Memo to self: Proofreading is my friend.

  4. Jeremy Bonner says:

    Where Confession is still practiced as a sacrament, it ought to be deserving of support from those who believe in the sacramental efficacy of Confession. More to the point, if the principle is conceded by the state church, then it will put increased pressure on Rome and the Orthodox to do the same and that should be of concern.

  5. Jeremy Bonner says:

    One other thought. Perhaps it should be made a rule that a confessor should not be somebody who is in a confessee’s managerial chain of command. Thus a bishop should never be a confessor for any clergy of that diocese and a parish priest should never be a confessor for any employee of their parish, even if they are also a member of that parish.

  6. Sarah says:

    RE: “Perhaps it should be made a rule that a confessor should not be somebody who is in a confessee’s managerial chain of command.”

    I really do agree with that principle . . . it’s a tough one too because it makes it a bit more inconvenient [ie, more travel, etc.] I go a step further and suspect that laypeople who start out as friends with particular clergy probably shouldn’t make those friends clergy confessors. It seems like it’s a boundaries and roles thing, more than anything. Of course, a confessor might become a friend — and that’s a different matter. But generally speaking I’ve sought out confessors who are not primarily friends first and who are in different geographic regions.

  7. tjmcmahon says:

    (Dr. Bonner at #4) “if the principle is conceded by the state church, then it will put increased pressure on Rome and the Orthodox to do the same”

    I think that it might, at some point, prompt Parliament to pass yet another anti-Catholic law to try to force Catholic and Orthodox priests to follow the example of the CoE, but I suspect that will in turn lead to a lot of Catholic priests in jail for contempt of court (or whatever the British equivalent is), as opposed to a change in doctrine.

    Regardless of what a godless Parliament might do, in the short term, I think the impact will be to influence whatever tiny number of Anglo Catholics remain in the CoE to swim the Tiber either via the Ordinariate or some more conventional means. The current ABoC and the other leadership of the CoE have made it unquestionably evident that they would be just as happy if the CoE were purged of its Traditionalist elements. Since almost all remaining Anglo Catholics will be leaving in any case due to the vote on women bishops, they are clearing the church of the other things not approved of by liberal “Evangelicals” (who in reality are as Evangelical as affirming catholics are catholic).

  8. Terry Tee says:

    Regarding Sarah’s point above, it is already part of RC canon law that a superior cannot hear subordinates’ confessions except in situations where death is imminent eg a novice master cannot hear the confession of novices.

  9. Jeremy Bonner says:

    Father Terry,

    I was aware that this was true for religious communities. Does it also hold for relationships between secular clergy and where clergy are direct superiors of laypeople?

  10. Nikolaus says:

    “What does it matter” or “what difference does it make” are the backbones of revisionism.

  11. Terry Tee says:

    Jeremy it holds true for secular (these days we would say diocesan) clergy for two reasons 1) as a safeguard against abuse of power by the superior 2) because it might inhibit a superior who might want to institute disciplinary action.

    Regarding lay employees I am not aware of direct prohibition, however you might like to note that a priest who absolves a lay person with whom he is involved in sexual misconduct himself incurs a sin which can only be absolved by the Holy See. It is thus one of a rare category of reserved sins.

  12. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    I am no expert but did read something recently that suggested that there never had been or at least has not been for a very long time a blanket exemption for priests in the CofE from reporting knowledge of serious crime to the authorities, where the law so requires. If only I could remember where I read it. I see Wikipedia [which is always right] goes into some detail on similar ground.

    Moreover on basic principles, the oath to the monarch would presumably include obedience to her laws which in any event as citizens, or residents within the realm, priests are subject to.

    An interesting area, the conflict between church law and state law, which of course was something St Thomas-a-Becket went to some pains to explore.

    Personally, it seems to me to be an abuse of the confessional for a miscreant to use it to seek absolution without then going to the appropriate authorities to make amends; and in so neglecting, to place the church into complicit silence to the continued suffering and in many cases continued abuse of the victims or the imperilling of other citizens of the state. I see nothing very Christian or very pastoral in that – rather an act of shame and in the case of children causing them to stumble [Matthew 18:6].

    I suspect that the Anglican seal of the confessional is one of those areas where what is actually the case differs from what is commonly thought, much like ‘common law marriage’ [non-existent in English law] or ‘sanctuary’ in a church [finally abolished before the 20th Century and always limited in scope].

  13. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    I have found the articles I read which go into whether the confessional has any privilege from disclosure in English law:

    1. ‘Articles 8 & 9 and the “seal of the confessional”: are communications between clergy and penitents privileged?’ – Frank Cranmer; and

    2. ‘Oz Anglicans reject seal of confessional’ – David Pocklington.

    Both helpful and worth a read for anyone interested in this topic.