The Seal of the Confessional

The Church of England's canon law includes a provision which upholds the Seal of the Confessional by saying that priests should not reveal to anyone what has been disclosed to them in Confession by a penitent.

 

This requirement has been declared by the Convocations of Canterbury and York to be 'an essential principle of Church doctrine':

'On 29th April, 1959, the Convocation of Canterbury agreed, and it was declared by His Grace the President to be an Act of Convocation, and on the same day the Convocation of York in Full Synod also agreed:

"That this House [York, That this Synod) reaffirms as an essential principle of Church doctrine that if any person confess his secret and hidden sin to a priest for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and absolution from him, such priest is strictly charged that he do not at any time reveal or make known to any person whatsoever any sin so committed to his trust and secrecy." '

The background to the 1959 Act of Convocation is set out here.

 

In 2015 the Archbishops' Council established a Working Group on the Seal of the Confessional to assist the Archbishops' Council and the House of Bishops in considering whether to recommend legislation to amend this canonical provision. The Chairman of the Working Group said that it would welcome any written comments about its work. Forward in Faith's submission to the Working Group is published here and summarized here.

 

A lecture by Dr Colin Podmore, entitled 'The Seal of the Confessional in the Church of England: Historical, Legal and Liturgical Perspectives, is available here.

 

In 2018 Forward in Faith issued a statement about the Bishop of Dover's instruction to the clergy of the Diocese of Canterbury to break the law of the Church of England in relation to the seal of the confessional.

 

On 17 November 2018 the Forward in Faith National Assembly passed the following resolution unanimously:

'That this Assembly

(a) call on the House of Bishops to re-affirm the Seal of the Confessional as an essential principle of the doctrine of the universal Church, as received by the Church of England, and

(b) call on Society priests to reassure the faithful that they will maintain absolute confidentiality with regard to what is confessed in sacramental confession.’

 

New Directions articles about Confession and the Seal are available from the links below:

The #KeepTheSeal logo is available here.