Monday, 16 November 2015

Affirming Catholicism on the Seal of Confession

We published recently responses to the Working Group on the Seal of Confession established by the Archbishops’ Council from Forward in Faith and from Anglican Catholic Future.

Here is the response issued by Affirming Catholicism:
Affirming Catholicism response to the proposals on modifying the rules relating to the seal of the confessional

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 7:02am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

So even the supposedly liberal wing of Anglo-Catholicism wants the seal of the confessional to be absolute.

Guess they're not so liberal after all!

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 7:21am GMT

Leaving aside the good intent of the proposals I can't see how any change in Canon law could be at all enforceable.

If a priest in conscience considered the seal of the confessional to be absolute he or she would not only be unwilling to 'tip off' the authorities, but would also be unwilling, presumably, to divulge the details of the confession to any disciplinary proceedings.

The only source of evidence would therefore be the person making their confession, who by definition would be a serious offender. (That's even assuming they'd be interested in providing evidence to an ecclesiastical court - one would imagine they'd have more pressing things to think about than land their confessing priest in trouble).

No sensible justice system would accept the offender's word unchallenged.

To my mind it's a question of 'good intentions making bad law'


Posted by: Peter K+ on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 9:55am GMT

I suspect I share your dismay, James.

The consensus of the interviewees is that the seal must be absolute, and abuse should not be reported (unless the offender chooses to).

Of priests who were told of abuse "no-one would be happy to pass on this information."

In the context of the terrible record the churches have in concealing and protecting sex offenders, and the scandals we know have occurred worldwide, this is abysmal.

Imagine your own daughter being abused by a person who was known to have abused others. Imagine you are a victim of abuse, and you later discover the abuser was known but not reported.

This is effectively the churches acting outside the law, and certainly failing completely in their duty to victims and the principles of justice.

Having worked with sex offenders myself, we are dealing with people with terrible compulsions (whether they confess or not), who repeat crimes time and time again.

Our first duty is to the victims of their horrific and life-spoiling crimes.

Sex abuse, murder, violence, major crime... should be reported.

Is the church going to carry on being a concealer of abuse, as a culturally accepted practice?

Have we learnt nothing from the past? Compassion, call to repentance - yes. But accountability too. It is not enough to forgive and yet not to report. In doing so, the priest is in collusion with the perpetrator of hidden crimes.

As a prison governor, I had 120 sex offenders in my care in a special centre. I would interview each of them and live with them day to day. So many of them were repeat offenders. Not only is a priest covering up heinous crime and denying justice to victims... they are also leaving future victims vulnerable to devastating harm and suffering.

This is what has happened in the past (inside the church). Should we mandate it to happen in the future?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 10:10am GMT

The post by a survivor of abuse linked to in the response, and comments below this, are I believe well worth reading by anyone interested in the topic - http://aqueercalling.com/2014/07/09/sexual-abuse-and-the-seal-of-confession/.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 11:58am GMT

Savi,

Thank you for the link. The article movingly describes what confession means to this person, who feels even her own abuser should be protected by the seal.

But what about the next person this abuser desecrates?

Because sex offenders, acting by compulsion, tend to offend again and again.

Covering up their crimes is a disaster for the next victim.

And I think we know this has happened many times in the recent history of the Church. The Church not reporting. The Church covering up abuse.

I am not persuaded by the author's case, however moving it is. Sometimes, faced with crimes, justice can only be served by accountability and hard actions. There may be years to pray for the abuser or visit them in prison.

The Church should be accountable to the Law, as much as anyone else.

Failure to act may leave an abuser free to seek future victims, and how can that be right?

Would the future victims be grateful their abusers weren't reported?

Having worked with sex offenders, compulsion and stealth (covering up) are frequent features, along with repeat crimes.

I think people's religious niceties come second to the justice and protection we owe to the victims and victims still to come.

These are just my opinions, my own conscientious view, and it doesn't mean I don't recognise other Christians' different consciences on this matter (which are doubtless sincere and rooted in their faith), but I am just trying to put my case.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 8:27pm GMT

This submissions makes the point that priests should be trained to pick up on and report abuse which comes to their attention outside the confessional, and to encourage those who come to confession to report this to the authorities, making this a condition of absolution in the (very rare) cases where the abuser confesses. As far as I am aware, the scandals which have arisen are because this was not done. Information reached church authorities, by means not connected with confession, and was not acted on. This must not happen in future.

But, as has been pointed out, sexual abusers are highly unlikely to confess if they know this will result in their arrest. Maybe I am utterly wrong and abusers are generally naive, trusting types who go around telling professionals about their crimes without any idea that this will be reported. In that case there would be a lot of cases in which abusers are put on trial because they told doctors or social workers of their crimes, wrongly thinking this would be confidential. I am not aware of this happening. And, having served as a voluntary sector representative on a children's services planning team and social services committee and helped to write a handbook on sexual violence, I think I would be aware of this.

Removing the seal of the confessional appears to be a way of appearing to atone for past failings while, in reality, making it even less likely that abuse will be picked up and leaving some survivors even more isolated, as the blog post to which I referred points out. I think those at risk of abuse deserve better than an empty PR gesture that undermines an important aspect of the church's ministry for many.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 10:40pm GMT

"” As much as my preteen self was dying for someone–anyone–to know what was happening to me and offer support and help, even if I had disclosed the abuse to a priest in confession I cannot see how breaking the seal would have been in my best interest. Quite the contrary: it would have robbed me of my sense of security within the safest place I’ve ever known. I would have been grateful to know that a religious leader was watching out for me or taking other measures to assess my safety that would not have involved breaking the seal. But I hope that in all circumstances, no matter how severe, priests in my Christian tradition will always honor the seal of confession." - Sarah - (via Savi H.)

This brings up the point: In such circumstances, should the priest not have a duty to advise the abused penitent to take her complaint to a proper authority - capable of actually doing something about the abuse? After all, this was njot a sin that could ever be attributed to the penitent.

This would be especially important if the abuse (and the instances of confession) were repeated.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 8:33am GMT

I totally agree with Savi. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater is not going to help anybody.

Contra James "Guess they're not so liberal after all!" being liberal does not mean changing just because you can think of a reason to change; it means weighing up the arguments and evidence - being willing to change in the light of reason and experience. But sometimes reason and experience tell us that the status quo is there for good reason. Do we really think that past generations were any less aware than we are that heinous crimes might be admitted in the confessional? They certainly were, but they kept the seal.

Contra Susannah "The Church should be accountable to the Law, as much as anyone else." the seal of the confessional is part of the Law (since Canon Law is part of the Law of the land). C of E clergy are indeed accountable to the Law. The question being asked is whether the law should change, not whether the Church follows the law. Specifically, we should ask whether there is any evidence that changing the law would be beneficial. I'm not aware of any, and the arguments for and against seem to me to be balanced against a change.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 10:41am GMT

Savi, if you're confident that no-one's going to reveal compromising information to a priest during confession, would you also have the exceptions to doctor-patient and attorney-client privilege removed?

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 11:20am GMT

In confirmation class, we were told a tale of when our vicar was younger and serving in Africa. The communion wine was poisoned one time but nobody got sick. The message: when it comes to sacraments, trust the Lord.

That's true of confession too. If crimes are confessed trust the Lord to deal with it, not lay that on the priest. It may be, for instance, that in talking about it within the confessional, encourages the individual to make a far fuller confession outside the seal than they would otherwise have done.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 6:04pm GMT

Dear Susannah

I was glad that you recognise other people's consciences and that your is 'just [your] opinion'. But in the previous sentence you dismiss other people's conscientiously held opinion as 'religious niceties'.

Thanks.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 6:43pm GMT

Savi, the scandals that have happened may well have confessed sin but because of this distorted theology that could never have come to light. How many confessors just didn't do anything with the information, I suspect and the Catholic bishops who have been implicated in cover ups suggests many. Having known of abuse cases in church it would also be wise for good intentioned, but to my mind, theologically confused clergy not to trust the word of the supposed reformed characters or penitent sinners because they say they have changed. The safety of all God's people should and must be the priority in any confessional situation and to do otherwise is to take one sentence of Jesus and ignore so much more. I find it very difficult to even begin to understand how people still think like this in the church today and James and Susannah really set the situation in the stark terms we must consider it.

Posted by: Paul on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 8:35pm GMT

James and Paul, what people say if (a) they know that their identity and what they said is likely to be reported to the authorities, (b) they know it is not, may be different. So, even if someone were - under the seal of the confessional - willing to talk about perpetrating sexual abuse, they would almost certainly not do so if the understanding of confession were radically changed so that it no longer involved complete confidentiality.

It could be argued that priests should lie to people coming to confession and promise confidentiality without actually delivering, but word would soon get out.

If an abuser were not yet willing to go to the police, what do you think would be the incentive for him or her to admit his or her crimes to a priest if the seal of the confessional were removed, since he or she would (a) not get absolution, (b) risk losing freedom and reputation, being sent to prison and becoming a target for other prisoners etc?

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 12:46pm GMT

Savi, criminals aren't calculating machines, nor, despite the jokes, lawyers. Many are stupid, panicked, or both, and blurt out confessions, or other incriminating statements. The criminal justice system relies on criminals acting against their interests every time police convince a suspect to doom themselves to years in the pen.

If physicians and attorneys can break confidentiality, so too can priests. What's sauce for the goose ...

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 3:36pm GMT

I think James' comparison with legal professional privilege is very apt. Nobody is suggesting that should not be absolute. If someone confesses a crime to a barrister they are professionally unable to represent the individual but they still cannot repeat the confession - and so far as I am aware there aren't exceptions.

If someone can get criminal advice under absolute confidentiality, why should they not be able to get spiritual advice? Or am I missing something?

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 3:45pm GMT

Bernard Randall: Contra Susannah "The Church should be accountable to the Law, as much as anyone else." the seal of the confessional is part of the Law (since Canon Law is part of the Law of the land). C of E clergy are indeed accountable to the Law.

Indeed, so long as you are talking about the CofE and England. (And of course this website is primarily about England.)

However, one would have thought that a theological position (the Seal) would have applied more generally than one denomination in one small country. Surely it should apply broadly and generally.

And your argument cannot apply anywhere else, because in no other country is "Canon law...part of the Law of the Land."

Your argument is not, in effect, a theological one -- it is a legal one. And therefore cannot bear on what I suppose to be a theological discussion.

Posted by: John Holding on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 5:06pm GMT

Personally, I totally agree with the points made by Savi Hensman.
However, re John Holding's contribution, I was recently at a large meeting of Auckland clergy, where we were asked by an overseas guest speaker what is the position in New Zealand on the matters under discussion here. Our bishop responded: "Our position is the same as that of the Roman Catholics; the seal of the confessional is absolute. However this has never been tested in law, and our legal advisers warn us that we might be very unwise to do so."
So, hypothetically, a priest might be brought to court and forced either to reveal information from the confessional, or to choose prison. In either case there would be great pressure on our General Synod to change our canons. What John calls a theological discussion cannot be separated from the legal one.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 7:07pm GMT

The comparison of the seal of the confessional with the duty of confidence of a lawyer is not necessarily very instructive. In Canada, a lawyer can only breach her duty of confidence where there is an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. It is an extremely narrow exception to the lawyer's duty and would not permit her to report, for example, past crimes (however heinous).

An important legal and relevant legal is discussed by Edward. It is one thing for the priest to be bound by the seal of the confessional to keep confidences in all cases (which I think is right, including for the reasons Savi provides), but that does not necessarily create a privilege recognized by law such that, despite the seal of the confessional, a priest may be required by a court to give evidence as to what she heard in a confession or face being found in contempt.

Posted by: Andrew Gray on Thursday, 19 November 2015 at 4:19am GMT

I totally agree with Savi and am grateful to her for expressing it so clearly. There is of course a legal discussion to be had. But neglected part of this reflection is surely a discussion of the nature and experience of grace - how it is ministered and received in the depths and dilemmas of fallen human living.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 19 November 2015 at 8:22am GMT

In the United States, civil law often protects the seal of the confession. For example, in California, the law protects from disclosure a "penitential communication" made to a "member of the clergy."

"Member of the clergy" is broadly defined to include the functionary of any religious organization (apparently regardless of whether that organization recognizes formal confession or is even Christian).

"Penitential communication" is defined to mean "communication made in confidence, in the presence of no third person so far as the penitent is aware, to a member of the clergy who, in the course of the discipline or practice of the clergy member’s church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications and, under the discipline or tenets of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret."

The penitent person has the legal right to refuse to disclose the content of the penitential communication and also has the right to prevent another person (presumably the clergy person) from disclosing the content of that communication.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Thursday, 19 November 2015 at 4:47pm GMT

Andrew, when this arose previously, as a compromise position, I suggested breaking the seal only in cases of imminent danger. Key point is, once the seal's broken for *any* reason, the absolutist principle's conceded, and it's a question of details.

Unlike attorney-client privilege, where, for obvious reasons, crimes must be discussed, with priest-penitent privilege, I see no compelling reason for confessions to be shielded. Not even a theological justification: if they don't want to reveal their crime to a priest, a penitent can always confess directly in prayer.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 19 November 2015 at 11:43pm GMT

I'm grateful for a statement which starts to take the practicalities seriously. Suppose it were three years ago and I had taken a confession from CB that an organsation KC was not delivering as advertised in spite of insistent claims on public finance as mission critical for KC. Public disclosure at that stage would likely have had nil impact. If there had been a chance of public disclosure with any impact, no confession would have bene made.

Of course confessors are human, fallible and sinful, and previous statements from other bodies have paid little attention to that. However the law is constructed, communities of collusion will exist. No system will ever be perfect.

But those who seek change don't seem to see how their own proposals relate to human imperfection either. Evangelical critics of confessional practice should know that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The search for temporal perfection is theologically vain, which isn't today that the status quo is adequate.

The theological question is what best prepares the way ... (with Advent approaching)

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Thursday, 19 November 2015 at 11:46pm GMT

The unrelenting and wilful ignorance and arrogance of the Church of England never fails to astound me. Cloaking a resistance to disclosure, safeguarding and protecting the vulnerable in sacramental theology is perverse. What is this resistance and where is it coming from? All practioners who come into contact with people who may be at risk of harm or indeed carrying out harm have a duty of care that trumps the immediate concern for confidentiality and any localised priorities of the organisation in question. Of course there are ways and means of doing it but the Church needs to wake up. My suspicion is that in an ever increasing democratisation of the Church and her clergy and the decline in the traditional Anglo Catholic respect for clergy, the seal of the confessional is one of the last bastions where Anglican priests, mainly male, get to still feel ‘special’, ‘important’ and ‘powerful’. I speak as a Priest from the English Catholic tradition; get over it!

Posted by: Revd. Fr. Malcome King on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 10:06am GMT

It is manifestly against the human rights of priests to expect them to break the Seal and the law everywhere ought to recognise that.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 5:56pm GMT

And when I stop to think about it, regardless of the priest's views, it is clearly a breach of the human rights of the penitent to reveal confessional material without the penitent's permission.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 6:08pm GMT

Thank you very much Susannah and Savi for your comments on the morning of 16th November. I agree absolutely with Susannah and I was particularly grateful for the link you gave us Savi. which was very moving and helpful. My understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation is that the penitent is confessing a sin(s) and wanting absolution. Confession implies repentance which means metanoia, a literal turning around and a change in behaviour. Any individual, clerical or lay, who confesses to sexual or any other abuse, must presumably be wanting to change his/her behaviour. But for the priest to give absolution surely the priest must withhold absolution until the individual has admitted any crime(s) to the relevant authorities, including the police. I would have thought the appropriate action on the part of the priest would be to at least offer the abuser that he/she accompany them to the police and help them confess their crime. Surely the priest cannot give absolution unless the crime has been confessed to the police. It is only after the penitent has refused to tell the police that there should be any discussion of whether the priest should 'break' the seal of the confessional. As we know if a person has sexually abused somebody once, it is likely to happen again, with the same or another individual. I would not like to be the priest who knows about the (criminal) abuse and does not act to protect future targets of abuse.

Posted by: Anne on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 6:44pm GMT

Mark, here's a practical scenario for you: a child molester confesses their crimes; you inform law enforcement; molester's hauled from their bed at crack of dawn, slung in jail to dodge shivs until trial, then convicted on the strength of their confession and dispatched to an earthly hell that'd best the creations of Dante Alighieri.

Downside of breaking open the seal: some who currently confess would, despite assurances, not feel free to do so. I don't want that, I don't deny its costs; but there's a balancing of interests here, and the damage done by leaving violent predators at liberty to assault children is worse.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 6:53pm GMT

Fr King

I could not disagree more. The first duty of the priest is neither to the penitent nor to any third party but to God. That means keeping in confidence confessions imparted to God via the priest as intercessor.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 7:20pm GMT

On reflection, I think I need to moderate some of my comments in the thread above.

I come to the conclusion that confession is a valued and sincerely held expression of faith for parts of our Anglican communion.

I have voiced my concerns about 'not reporting' serious criminality, primarily out of concern for potential future victims of abuse. That is my own position.

However, I was wrong to refer to other people's sincerely held beliefs as 'religious niceties'.

We stand at a crossroads in the Anglican communion, where there is a desperate danger of division and disunity. Anglican tradition needs to avoid sectarianism and dogmatic uniformity.

To avoid this, as in the case of gay sex and equal marriage, as a Communion we need to co-exist, and allow other people to follow their consciences and journeys of faith with God.

Therefore I conclude that those who do not wish to practice confession with an absolute seal should do things one way, and those who do wish to uphold an absolute seal should equally follow their path of faith.

And if we can co-exist, and hold firm together, in our differences and diversity, in the great unity we have in Jesus Christ, then I believe we will be choosing a path of grace, that calls on us to honour those we disagree with, and look to Jesus Christ not to ourselves.

I used some dismissive terms in the heat of a strongly-voiced discussion, and I regret that. There is more than one kind of dogmatism. Perhaps we can all get dogmatic. But we need grace more than dogmatic rectitude.

Our communion needs unity in diversity, and that means understanding that there may be many paths, and many expressions of Anglican faith, but as our paths weave this way and that up the mountainside, we are on a journey of faith, and if we open up to grace, then we may know God with us every step of the way.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 10:11pm GMT

Kate, I appreciate where you are coming from in this debate. However, if a person is breaking the just laws of the land, and brings this breech to the confessional s/he should be warned by the priest to admit the crime to the apporpriate authorities, forthwith. Of course, the priest must first decide - in his/her own conscience - that the matter being admitted to is actually actionable and accountable to legal jurisdiction.

The problem for clergy - before the enactment of new laws regarding sexual behaviour of homosexuals was brought into being - was that many of us regarded the existing law as unjust and therefore
a matter for pastoral guidance rather then legal prohibition.

However, with the incidence of abuse of women and children - or, indeed of anyone suffering abuse within relationships of any sort - their safety and individual freedom requires that clergy do not abuse the privilege of the confessional to in any way perpetuate this abuse. After all, clergy also have their own conscience before God.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 11:30pm GMT

Kate: "I could not disagree more. The first duty of the priest is neither to the penitent nor to any third party but to God. That means keeping in confidence confessions imparted to God via the priest as intercessor."

Which is all very well. I've already noted that if the priest is discovered to have withheld information about abuse, s/he is liable to conviction and a prison sentence...which s/he should serve joyfully as a martyr.

But I'd hope that any priest (after going through the exercise Anne suggests) who still does not inform police is willing to carry with him or her for the rest of his/her life the knowledge of the pain and the suffering the priest will have caused to all the additional innocent victims resulting from the failure to act. I'd hope that such a priest would not take comfort in the knowledge that a theological principle had been upheld at the cost of pain, suffering and possibly death for innocents.

Posted by: John Holding on Saturday, 21 November 2015 at 4:04am GMT

@ Kate, "the priest as intercessor..." Indeed!

Of course, the Great Prayer for the Church ends with, " Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our ONLY mediator and advocate..." (BCP, Canada ). Furthermore, the absolution in the general confession speaks about the priest, not as intercessor, but in opposite terms as listener, having power to "declare and pronounce to his people being penitent...absolution and remission of their sins... " Granting the same to those who "repent and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel...that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy..."

So, there is much more to consider than your over simplification if you want to go with piety as the sine qua non.

Many of the posts here, and on the other threads on this site under previous headings, are examples of special pleading, insular church land thinking, phony dichotomies.

My colleague Fr. King has it exactly right in terms of a gold standard for this issue.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 21 November 2015 at 4:14am GMT

"But I'd hope that any priest (after going through the exercise Anne suggests) who still does not inform police is willing to carry with him or her for the rest of his/her life the knowledge of the pain and the suffering the priest will have caused to all the additional innocent victims resulting from the failure to act. I'd hope that such a priest would not take comfort in the knowledge that a theological principle had been upheld at the cost of pain, suffering and possibly death for innocents."

A tad manipulative, John?

I'm appreciating the discussion of general principles on this thread, but was hoping someone might respond to the practical point I made above - any change in rule would be legally unenforceable.

Posted by: Peter K+ on Saturday, 21 November 2015 at 9:24am GMT

Father, I have sinned?

How have you sinned my child?

I have had a homosexual relationship with another man.

You know that is a crime against Uganda law and that you might go to prison for the rest of your life?

It should not be a crime?

But it is, so I will have to tell the authorities so you don't corrupt other men.

I thought I could confess sins of lust in confidence?

No. If a crime has been committed, there is no confidentiality. Nor can I offer any absolution until you have been arrested.

% % %

Is that really the outcome we want? And don't say it couldn't happen here. A lawyer in California suggested such a law. And if Muslims in a generation become the majority, a European country could fall under Sharia law.

The whole point is that crime and sin are entirely separate. Confession is an opportunity to help a penitent confess their sins to God without any consideration of worldly crime.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 21 November 2015 at 8:55pm GMT

It is funny that different people have different 'red-lines' for what they consider to be the absolute boundaries of legitimate corporate Christian experience. For many evangelicals, the recognition of gay marriage and acceptance of same-sex attraction seems to be an absolute boundary beyond which they cannot see faithful Christian witness going. For many liberals, the toleration of homophobia or sexism - even to the point of making institutional allowances for objecting Catholics - is simply intolerable and is fatally compromising to the Church's mission. Not feeling all-that-strongly about either issue, I've tended to regard both parties with some bemusement and occasional scorn.

So imagine my disquiet at discovering my own red line: a subject on which I find I feel so strongly that it is difficult for me to comment dispassionately. I do not honestly think I could belong to any ecclesial body that is willing to compromise the sanctity of the confessional. The idea that the trust between priest and penitent can be violated on any grounds at all is so objectionable to me that I would sadly feel compelled to leave the church of my baptism if the seal of the confessional were to be 'watered-down' in any way. It's not just a matter of high-flown theology, but of human relationships and duties that are utterly different from those that govern the coercive apparatus of the state, or even 'normal' secular society. And I know I'm not the only one for whom this really goes to the heart of what the church is for. If your vision of the church is basically sacramental then the very idea that preventing crimes (even horrific ones) might take precedence over the urgent business of bringing sinners to reconciliation is going to present an insuperable problem.

And yet others here are no less blasé on the subject than I am when it comes to tolerating homophobes or gay marriage or women bishops or their doubters. It gives me a certain amount of unaccustomed empathy for those evangelicals and liberals who have priorities different from mine, but I wonder how we can possibly continue to pretend to be a single ecclesial community when the things we value - the way we imagine ourselves to be - are so various and seemingly irreconcilable.

Posted by: rjb on Sunday, 22 November 2015 at 6:18am GMT

And yet Kate, you appeal to the Human Rights of a Priest to defend the confidentiality of the Seal??? Are you for or against secular law/principles of duty of care!? The picking and choosing you seem to be engaged with, between Church and 'worldlyness' does not make this clear and undermines your argument.

As for your Ugandan analogy; The issue is that if you disclose something which pertains to either yourself or others been put at risk of harm or abuse it is then that the Seal needs to be broken. Granted, a Priest in some places may see something such as homosexuality as a sin that is causing harm to self or other. In this case the churches guidelines on confession need to be aligned with its protocols for safeguarding Children and Adults. Those way issues of morality remain under the seal while crimes of abuse etc. do not.

Posted by: Revd Fr. Malcome King on Sunday, 22 November 2015 at 9:26am GMT

@rjb re: " ...absolute boundaries of legitimate corporate Christian experience." Interesting question.

Corporate Christianity can be understood as both a community and a society although a complete and neat differentiation between the two notions is probably not possible. Sociologist Peter Berger, from what I remember from undergrad days of yore, talked about the "street corner society". Yet I find the two terms useful in making something of a distinction. In fact, Roman Catholic friends tell me that one of the shifts of V2 was around the tension between church as society v. church as community. Communities are dynamic, people come and go, continuing to belong is intentional. However, one can be part of a larger society without endorsing or affirming what one believes to be misguided values or mistaken notions. The larger and/or more diverse the community one lives in, the more reflective it is of the wider society, then the bigger the challenge to remain within it perhaps. Actually, the article by Canon Billings ( more recent thread) gets at some of this.

What has worked for me, so far, is sorting out belonging in tension with complicity. I continue to belong to the society known as "the church" while asserting that I will not be complicit in those things I find troubling.

However, a tipping point can arrive, which brings us back to the question you raise in your post. Which gives rise to a further question, where would I go where my complicity against the Gospel would be less than my remaining in the church? “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life." Joining another denomination is hardly an answer as none are tailor made to avoid the question you pose. I suspect most of us have something of the dissident in us.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 22 November 2015 at 4:35pm GMT
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