Monday, 26 October 2015

Forward in Faith defends the seal of the Confessional

This ought not to be newsworthy, but in a Church which increasingly fails to understand a sacramental view of the world, it is a highly significant and well- argued response. 
"Forward in Faith has published its submission to the Working Party on the Seal of the Confessional, which is charged with assisting the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops in considering whether to recommend amendment of the Canon that says that priests should not reveal what has been disclosed in Confession by a penitent.

Forward in Faith's submission points out that the sacraments belong to the whole Church, of which the Church of England is only part, and that the General Synod therefore does not have the authority to alter them. The obligation of non-disclosure is part of the nature of the Sacrament: it was not created by the Canon. Amending or repealing the Canon would therefore not remove it. We are confident that priests will continue to regard themselves as bound by the Seal of the Confessional, even if this canonical provision is amended or repealed.

We question whether, in any case, the necessity for such a change has been or can be made out.

Such a change would be undesirable and counterproductive. It would discourage people who have committed criminal offences from making their confession, reducing the likelihood of a priest being in a position to counsel them to report themselves to the Police. The time and energy expended in promoting such a controversial piece of legislation could be deployed more profitably in other ways.

Forward in Faith is concerned that many priests receive little or no training for the important ministry of reconciliation, which both the 1662 and Common Worship Ordinals identify as a fundamental aspect of priestly ministry. Such training should emphasize that, where a serious crime is confessed, absolution should be withheld until the penitent has reported him- or herself to the Police.

Forward in Faith understands the defence of the sacraments as part of its purpose, and we shall resist as strongly as we can any attack on the integrity of sacramental Confession.

The submission may be read here."  
[gives a further link to a pdf document] 
Before going on to address the desirability of a change to the Church of England's canons, the response states: 
Is Change Necessary? 
13. Even if it were possible for the General Synod to alter the sacrament by removing the Seal, we do not believe that the necessity for such a change has been or can be made out. 
14. We share the general abhorrence of the crimes against children and vulnerable adults that have given rise to consideration of this issue, and agree that it is essential to ensure that the Church is as safe a place as possible for them and for the Church to do all that it can to promote safeguarding in wider society. But we are not aware of any evidence that amending the proviso to Canon 113 of the Canons of 1603 would have any positive effect on this. 
15. We hope that the Working Group will report on the question of whether there is any evidence that in any specific case breach of the Seal of the Confessional by a priest would have made any difference to the safety of any specific child or vulnerable adult. We are not aware of any. Without such evidence, we suggest, there is no justification for even considering a change that would purport to remove the duty of non-disclosure or seek to impose a duty of disclosure. It would simply be an emotional gesture. 
16. Those of us who have significant experience of hearing confessions are doubtful as to the frequency with which offences against children and vulnerable adults are confessed. We believe this to be very rare indeed.
Read it all, and the footnotes. 
There are already some interesting responses on the 'Thinking Anglicans' website [here]


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