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The Diocese of Canterbury and the Seal of the Confessional
Posted on the 31st May 2018
The Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy issued in 2015 by the Convocations of Canterbury and York state (in para. 3.5): ‘If a penitent makes a confession with the intention of receiving absolution the priest is forbidden (by the unrepealed Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603) to reveal or make known to any person what has been confessed. This requirement of absolute confidentiality applies even after the death of the penitent.’
However, the Bishop of Dover has issued the following instruction to clergy in the Diocese of Canterbury and the Deaneries of Guernsey and Jersey: ‘The Bishop emphasises that… Any priest hearing a confession, regularly or otherwise, must say prior to hearing that confession the following statement of confidentiality and safeguarding: “If you touch on any matter in your confession that raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding of another person or yourself, I am duty bound to pass that information on to the relevant agencies, which means that I am unable to keep such information confidential.” ’ Incredibly, the Diocese of Canterbury has denied that this instruction – which is cast in very wide terms indeed – has effectively 'abolished the Seal of the Confessional'.
Forward in Faith’s position remains as set out in 2015 in our submission to the working party on the seal of the confessional: we will resist as strongly as we can any attack on the integrity of sacramental Confession.
For a diocese to pre-empt synodical discussion of whether any aspect of ecclesiastical law should be changed is unacceptable. Forward in Faith calls for urgent action to bring the Diocese of Canterbury and the Channel Islands deaneries back into conformity with canon law and with the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy so recently issued by the members of the Houses of Bishops and Clergy in the provincial Convocations. If the Diocese of Canterbury is allowed to continue publicly to incite the clergy to breach canon law, that will set a very worrying precedent.