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Defending the Seal of the Confessional
Posted on the 4th Jul 2019
Forward in Faith thanks Pope Francis for his recent re-affirmation of the absolute inviolability of the Seal of the Confessional. Pope Francis said:
'Reconciliation itself is a benefit that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all her moral and legal might, with the sacramental seal. Although it is not always understood by the modern mentality, it is indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the freedom of conscience of the penitent, who must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain within the secrecy of the confessional, between one’s conscience that opens to grace, and God, with the necessary mediation of the priest. The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction over it, nor can lay any claim to it.'
We welcome the ‘Note on the importance of the internal forum and the inviolability of the Sacramental Seal’, approved by Pope Francis and published this week, which says that any political or legislative pressure to override this sacramental seal would be ‘a violation of religious freedom’.
The sacrament of Reconciliation can only be the safe space that it must be – not least for the victims and survivors of abuse – if all who avail themselves of it can be confident that what is disclosed in sacramental confession will never be revealed by the priest (thought they remain entirely free to disclose it themselves if and when they feel ready to do so).
Forward in Faith remains committed to defending the Seal. We also support better training for priests for this important ministry of the Church.
The Anglican-Methodist Proposals
Posted on the 2nd Jul 2019
In our own February 2018 statement, we noted questions about whether the proposals would lead to unity, and whether the office of ‘President-bishop’ (to be held for one year only) could be recognized as a ‘local adaption’ of the historic episcopate of the catholic Church. We are grateful to note some progress with regard to the question of unity, but our question as to whether what is proposed is in fact episcopacy remains.
Our third and greatest concern was about the proposal to set aside the requirement that those who minister as priests in the Church of England should have been episcopally ordained to the office of priest. In response to this concern, which was shared by others, the General Synod asked the Faith and Order Commission to ‘explore and elucidate further the relationship between episcopal ordination and eucharistic presidency’. That the Commission has not attempted to offer such an elucidation is a deep disappointment.
The requirement of episcopal ordination was fundamental to the 1662 settlement, which is in turn fundamental to Anglican identity. The Preface to the 1662 Ordinal makes clear that this requirement is a matter of doctrine. If this doctrine is set aside for a ‘temporary’ period that could last for sixty or seventy years, as is proposed, it will effectively have been abandoned. If a central tenet of Anglican doctrine can be abandoned in this way, what other tenets of Anglican doctrine might follow?
We recognize that the proposals are still developing, and the prospect of further work is held out. Such developing scenarios do not offer a sufficiently firm basis for the drafting of legislation. As the experience of the first Women Bishops Measure showed, if at the beginning of the legislative process on deeply divisive and controversial matters there is not an agreed outcome that enjoys a stable consensus of support, it is highly unlikely that the legislative process will deliver a solution. For the General Synod to vote for legislation to be drawn up, as the motion to be moved on Sunday proposes, would be premature and irresponsible.
Since 1662 the Church of England has always been careful to adopt a charitable and eirenic approach to other churches. She has been reluctant to unchurch them by condemning their orders, and has often affirmed the authenticity and fruitfulness of their ministries within their own context. At the same time, the Church of England has upheld the integrity of her own doctrine by admitting of no exception to the requirement of episcopal ordination for eucharistic presidency and priestly ministry. Proposals that sacrifice doctrinal integrity to ecumenical expediency are unlikely to prove wholesome, fruitful or – in the end – unifying.