Comments: Is the seal of the confessional under threat?

I sincerely hope the C of E will put up more of a fight against the hegemonic values of the secular state than the Anglican Church in Australia did. There must still be a few of us left in the C of E who believe the sacrament of reconciliation to be more than just a wee cosy chat with your dog-collared social worker. And I hope there are still some who think that the church's job is redeeming sinners rather than persecuting them. There might even be some who think that "protecting children" (that all-important but curiously ill-defined imperative of our age) is not well served by effectively shutting out sex offenders from a demanding love that requires repentance and healing (and, of course, which demands healing and acceptance from the church community towards the offender). If such a costly moral system is scandalous and incomprehensible to our secular Western culture, then it might possibly be an indication that the Church is doing something right! But if we're inviting the police and public prosecutors to press their ears to the confessional door because we're afraid of what the Daily Mail might say, then I'm afraid we're probably doing something wrong.

Posted by rjb at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 1:31pm BST

'400 -year-old sacred law'

Oh please. Any one for church history ?

How does such ignorance appear in unlikely places ?

Or does it mean that four hundred years ago, a new code of canons came in replacing the previous ones ?

Either way,the seal is, of course pre-Reformation, as well as, post Reformation.


Anonymity is a key aspect of the celebration of this sacrament.

Posted by Laurie Roberts at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 3:54pm BST

rjb,
police and prosecutors pressing ears to the confession door - that all sounds very dramatic.

Do we have any actual data for how many people this might affect? Are there anonymous statistics for how many people have confessed to abusing children? how many children? How many of them have stopped doing so because of the "demanding love that requires repentance and healing"?
How many might have been stopped had the priests not been bound by the seal of the confessional?

Do we actually know what we're talking about, or are we just responding emotionally to a perceived threat?

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 4:32pm BST

rjb reminds us of the presence and call of Christ in his comment.

I remember going to confession at Liverpool Cathedral and finding my confession being heard by the Dean- Edward Patey ! So that was anonymous and all confession is potentially anon, of course.

Years ago, my regular confessor always would ask me, "How are you ? " after the blessing, and before my departure !

But in essence can always be private and confidential.

We must not forget the penance to be imposed, either.

A confessor could ask one who has broken the law, "For your penance will you go to the police ?"

It can be discussed calmly in the spirit of the sacrament.

Posted by Laurie R at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 4:42pm BST

This was the sort of principle for which Anglo-Catholic priests fought- sometimes successfully administering the sacrament to prisoners condemned to death who had also been excommunicated by a lay judge_ sometimes not, when chaplains in the army (who were officers) were obliged to report certain admissions to senior officers.Such mitigated success led many priests to the Roman Catholic fold where the seal of confession is known to priests and laypeople to be inviolable.

Posted by Clive Sweeting at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 5:04pm BST

"and, of course, which demands healing and acceptance from the church community towards the offender"

Yeah, because well-meaning church communities are _exactly_ the people who should, with no professional assistance, deal with paedophiles. Especially as the confession model by its nature excludes victims, so while the church community is putting its arms around the poor misunderstood child abuser, the actual child is given no help at all: the police don't know, social services don't know, and while the church community are feeling all pleased with themselves about how understanding and supportive they are, children who have been profoundly harmed are just ignored.

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 8:08pm BST

@ rjb, "I hope there are still some who think that the church's job is redeeming sinners rather than persecuting them." Tell that to a child who has been victimized by a serial predator. In what sense is stopping a criminal act a form of persecution?

Continuing with this topic, The form for, The Reconciliation of a Penitent, in the Canadian liturgy states as a bald fact, "The secrecy of a confession of sin is morally absolute for the confessor, and must under no circumstances be broken". (. BAS p. 166)This creates a potentially difficult moral dilemma for "confessors". Perhaps that is why, the above rubric notwithstanding, clergy here were being reminded of the legal duty to report abuse of children, and to "have a conversation with their bishop" if such a situation arose. One can ask some critical questions about the theology of "moral absolutes". Are we prepared to sacrifice the safety, perhaps the life long well being of children abused by serial predators in order to maintain a medieval notion of sin and declaratory absolution?

One wonders if the many priests who were eventually convicted in a court of multiple criminal accounts of child sexual abuse had confessed their sins time and time again? If so, did it lead to them turning themselves in, getting therapy, and facing justice? Or, did it it merely function as a from of co-dependency. Confess the grievous fault, sin again, confess again, etc. etc.

Its time the church got some professional help of its own in terms up updating policies and practices that impact the public good and public safety. If I had to choose a "moral absolute", protecting children from serial predators takes precedence. Telling persons who engage in compulsive violent behaviors to "go and sin no more" is the ultimate hail Mary pass, with potentially very harmful outcomes.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 8:40pm BST

rjb: "protecting children" (that all-important but curiously ill-defined imperative of our age)

Actually extremely well defined imperative, in a whole series of legislation, starting with the Children's Act 1989, and more recently in the 'Working Together' documents. And the problem with not sharing information is that children are left at significant risk of massive harm. Plenty of abusers will 'repent' but go on to keep abusing. The church has an extremely bad record already at putting the abuser first over their victims. Time to say unequivocally that the victim / survivors come first, and are more important than church doctrine, their abusers, or even the Daily Mail.

Posted by Jeremy Fagan at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 9:22pm BST

Erika, the number of people might have confessed such crimes in the past is no indication of how many might do so in future if they know the authorities might be informed. Children might be at greater risk because offenders who are aware that they have done wrong but are not yet ready to tell the police would no longer share their story with a priest who could then prompt them to take the next step. What constitutes a serious criminal offence also varies from country to country and, even here, might be subjective (e.g. are security services whistleblowers heroes or traitors on whom the church might be expected to inform?) Far more can be done to counter child abuse, for instance by awareness-raising. However very careful thought should be given to the implications of the proposed change.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 9:52pm BST

rjb's comment prompted me to think of the mess the Catholic Church, and other churches, in Australia (and elsewhere) have made of institutional responses to child sex abuse. Certainly, the redemption of sinners is the job of the church but shielding criminal offences against the most vulnerable people in our community contravenes not only the law of the land but shames God. I think the seal of the confessional is important in that trust and fidelity are integral. But let's not forget how many innocent lives have been destroyed.

Posted by Pam at Tuesday, 23 September 2014 at 10:42pm BST

"Or does it mean that four hundred years ago, a new code of canons came in replacing the previous ones?"

I would assume the Canons of 1604, though off the top of my head I don't know what if anything they say about the seal of the confessional.

"How does such ignorance appear in unlikely places?"

I just about doused my laptop there. By "unlikely places," you mean the Mail?? xD

Posted by Geoff at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 12:48am BST

Erika:

"Do we have any actual data for how many people this might affect?"

Does it matter? Is there really any number that could be a good answer? Would you consider one person so deterred to be negligible?

Posted by Geoff at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 12:56am BST

No clergy person should ever be put in the position of safeguarding the confessions of individuals whose actions have injured and are likely to endangering the vulnerable among us, all for the sake of defending a "400 year old sacred law."

Posted by Michael Patterson at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 5:12am BST

I don't believe anonymity is at all central or primary to the process.

It certainly isn't how it's done in my parish, in which I generally sit with the priest face-to-face for confession and counselling. I can see where the so-called seal is seen as important, but the integrity of that seal does not absolve a priest from a duty to the larger community. I'm not sure that this elevation from secular law is healthy, and it certainly does not reflect the idea of "in the world but not of it."

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 8:03am BST

I think Laurie R has it absolutely correct. Surely, the only suitable penance in any situation like this is to ask the penitent to turn themself in?

Does anyone know what weight of evidence, even, a confession to a priest would have compared with, say, a confession to the police or in a court room?

Posted by Alastair Newman at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 10:07am BST

I always read rjb's comments with great interest. Historically, in the RC church especially, but no doubt in the C of E as well, confession has sometimes been dreadfully abused, e.g. in the French religious wars and in the Irish war of independence and subsequent civil war. (My late mother heard terrible stories from her southern Irish Catholic girl cousins.) It is hard not to believe that it has not also been dreadfully abused in recent times by priests and others in religious institutions in connexion with child abuse. The state has an absolute duty to protect its people from such abuse and to bring perpetrators to justice. My personal view is that no church has the right to operate a system whereby such crimes are not brought to book. Confession can still be offered - but on the absolute understanding that crimes of a serious nature (I'm not talking about parking tickets) will be reported to the appropriate authorities. The last phrase is key: the Church is not the appropriate authority here. Talk of 'the hegemonic powers of the secular state' does not seem to me match the case.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 10:15am BST

I think rjb is being a little unfair on the Anglican Church of Australia. The various state parliamentary inquiries and the current Royal Commission are the kind of rolling investigation many of the churches (Roman down to the Salvos) have either avoided or fudged. To the extent that the hegemonic power of (secular) government has been necessary to get the churches to really talk about what they've been doing, it has been a force for good. The Salvation Army has been forced to confront some very dark aspects of their history, which only became clear to them through the series of hearings of the Royal Commission in the last six months. By contrast, the Anglicans have been able to demonstrate a commitment to dealing with the issues openly and with clear processes in place. That's a far better place to be than the disaster that's unfolded for the Roman Catholics, for example.
The root of the issue with confession is the extent to which it is used as an alternative to therapy and reporting criminal activity to the police. The Anglican Church of Australia has managed to address the issue at the governance level by introducing very strict professional standards protocols, and the designation of specially-trained confessors for known sex offenders when they seek to use sacramental confession.
But the nag remains: what if the offender actually believes the sex is a good thing, and that it is somehow beneficial to the victim? What if they regard it as an entitlement due to them (for whatever reason)? I don't believe such a person would be discussing their sexual activities in a sacramental confession under these circumstances because it is very unlikely they would think their behaviour sinful. Someone with sexually compulsive behaviours that really distressed them is more likely to seek professional help before trying confession. Experience suggests it is more likely a victim would bring these sorts of things to confession as an indirect way of bringing it to the surface.
And another question that no-one seems to have addressed when this has come up elsewhere (and picking up on Laurie R's remark above), what about directions for confessors? Surely confession of a sex crime against anyone should be a clear flag to withhold absolution pending the matter being reported to police? How does the question of confidentiality work in this scenario?

Posted by Victoriana at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 12:06pm BST

I was taught (I was ordained in 2002) in ICME 4-7, both in relation to hearing confessions and safeguarding training, that the seal of the confessional has no status in statute and there is no legislation to which a priest can appeal. It was made abundantly clear to me that if I was told anything in the confessional which involved the abuse of the vulnerable (irrespective of whether I gave absolution or not) and did not disclose it to the authorities, I could be deemed to be complicit. Any people with experience of ICME training out there who can confirm or challenge this?

Posted by James at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 12:26pm BST

A perspective from Quebec (which has a very catholic understanding of the confessional, and a civil law tradition): the seal is protected by law (Charter of Rights and Freedoms), with one very specific exception carved out. The priest has a duty to report if a child is being or is in danger of being physically or sexually abused.

My sense is that the proposed changes in England are much too vague and open to all sorts of interpretation, to the detriment of the sacrament.

Posted by Jim Pratt at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 3:03pm BST

This has long been an issue at the local level for Episcopal clergy. Local prosecutors have not necessarily respected the concept of the seal of the confessional for anyone except Roman Catholics. In addition, the legal requirement to report child physical and sexual abuse has obtained without exception in all US states and territories (by state law, primarily) for a generation or more. In that case, the law does not respect the seal of the confessional for anyone.

So, what have clerics done? That depended on what was confessed, I think. Laurie R's response is the one I have considered, with the inclusion of "and I will go with you to [the police]." Others (and notable with non-child related offenses) have refused to testify and accepted contempt of court citations, or have simply found ways not to be available. Each of those has its risks and its costs, of course.

Too, I am a hospital chaplain, and that also has its levels of confidence. What is "confessional," and what is "professional" that needs to be shared with the healthcare team for the patient's benefit? As I've discussed and taught this over the years, there's really no way that a formal rule can cover the breadth of the issue. It becomes a personal decision about how to understand confidence, and how to respond in mercy to the penitent and in justice to anyone else.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 3:25pm BST

It has always struck me that the "seal" is practical rather than theological; that is, people who feel burdened by their sins (as the Anglican rubrics suggest) can unburden their hearts to a cleric and be assured of God's forgiveness; and are more likely so to do when they know any thing they reveal will be held in strict confidence by the minister.

Obviously the moral of this is that if this is the expectation then it must be observed. However, I see no reason why the church cannot amend this expectation going forward, so long as it is clear exactly what crimes may or must be reported. The RC Church for many years had a list of such crimes, in which absolution was reserved to a higher authority than the parish priest -- it is true these were passed along anonymously, but also clear that the "seal" had edges.

Such a well-publicized change in policy may have the practical effect of people guilty of such crimes not resorting to confession; but as I observe that is a practical and not a theological issue. From an Anglican perspective this is all subjective: the General Confession is just as efficacious in the absolution of sin as is the auricular; if guilty persons feel less forgiven when they inwardly repent than when they do so verbally, that is about their feelings -- not the nature of God whose grace knows no limits. As to one who simply feels sorrow for his crimes, but will do nothing to make amends... again, this seems to me very subjective. But perhaps that's my own subjectivity showing.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 3:35pm BST

At first glance, this seems to be a conflict between two opposing goods: preserving the seal of the confession and protecting past and future victims. However, the ‘goods’ need not be in conflict: if a priest is required to report a penitent to the police, penitents will be unlikely to confess reportable offences. The victims are not protected. (Imagine parents who severely punish their children when they admit to doing something wrong: how likely are the children to make such admissions?) If a priest is not required to report a penitent, but is able to urge, and even require, a penitent to report him or herself to the police (as most priests would do), then victims may well be more protected. The seeming good of the reporting requirement can be at the expense of the real good of actually protecting the victims. But this is a cost-benefit analysis, and not a new one. It hinges on detecting the paradox created by the admittedly good intention to protect victims. But there is another aspect, the sacramental aspect: in confession the penitent confesses to God and the priest witnesses the confession, offering advice and even making a judgement about the sincerity of the resolve not to sin again (hence the adjuring of the penitent to report him or herself to the police when that is appropriate to prevent further harm). I take this sacramental role of witnessing something occurring between God and the penitent as hugely significant and I suspect it shifts the debate towards a presumption of confidentiality.

Posted by Joe at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 3:49pm BST

"If a priest is not required to report a penitent, but is able to urge, and even require, a penitent to report him or herself to the police (as most priests would do), then victims may well be more protected."

So what happens when the urged, or indeed required, reporting by penitent to the police doesn't happen? If they know that the priest will do nothing, how precisely does this "requirement" arise?

Child abuse is toxic precisely because it makes people around it complicit. See, the offenders say, how damaged I am, and how children would be protected if only people loved and cared for me a little more. Why punish me, when you can help cure me?

But child abusers are regarded as extremely difficult to treat by the most skilled and well-resourced forensic psychiatrists of our times, and the levels of supervision and restraint imposed on people released from jail after serving (long) sentences is greater than the levels imposed on murderers.

Most murders are situational; it is very rare to find someone who kills as an end in itself, because they simply enjoy the killing. Very, very few murderers murder more than once; it is precisely because serial killers are so rare that they are so well known. Child rapists are far more likely to reoffend.

For a church to concern itself with the moral welfare of child rapists is laudable: that no-one is beyond God's forgiveness is one of the hallmarks of Christianity, and with my "check your moral compass by seeing what Quakers do" their circles of support and accountability have been extremely effective. But those circles form around people who are convicted, punished and deemed safe (or, at least, safe enough) to release, and support and augment the protective measures that society takes. They place the victims at the centre of what they do, and have close professional involvement throughout. They are as far from "take confession, leave it up to the penitent to do more" as it is possible to get.

http://www.quaker.org.uk/files/Circles-of-support-first-3yrs.pdf

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 4:27pm BST

@ Jim Pratt, hi Jim, Quebec and Newfoundland are the two Canadian provinces out of 10 that recognize the so called "seal" of confession. At one point here our diocesan chancellor made it very clear that clergy in this jurisdiction do not have protection in terms of "pastor -client privilege". You mention the Charter of Rights, are you talking about the Canadian Charter, which recognizes general religious freedom on balance, or the Quebec Charter? Criminal law in Canada is federal, and my understanding is that there is only one Supreme Court case that has set out parameters. Not sure if you are a legal professional, if so maybe you could expand on your comment, if not, maybe there is a lawyer out there who could post. Notwithstanding, clergy entrusted with care of people must be allowed to balance the harms, and children and the vulnerable at risk take priority in my book.

There is an article on wiki about this covering a number of countries, but one must take care re the source.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priest%E2%80%93penitent_privilege#Canada

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 4:48pm BST

Another question arises: would such a change mean that survivors too would not be entitled to confidentiality if incidents of abuse were disclosed during confession, e.g. if they wrongly blamed themselves or their experience had led them to act in ways they regretted and which they then confessed? A teacher would be expected to report a disclosure of abuse, for instance: if the tradition of confidentiality during confession is removed, might it mean that those abused too are in effect unable to go to confession if not yet ready to talk with the police?

Posted by Savi Hensman at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 8:58pm BST

This is one issue where I just feel *extremely* ambivalent. There two competing goods, and two competing ills. I *want* both goods, and neither ills: "...that's what heaven's for".

God bless innocent children and holy confessors. God call to ***true (legally adjudicated) repentence*** all those who abuse children---AND protect the seal of confession.

Posted by JCF at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 9:56pm BST

Re, Interested Observer (wed.24.4:27), thanks so much for your post with the link to Circles of Support and Accountability. I've browsed it only, but plan to read it through. The concept of restorative justice mentioned in the article is very important. You note in your post, that no one is beyond God's forgiveness is a hallmark of Christianity. It's an important perspective to maintain.

Perhaps it is necessary to re-state that the duty to report abuse is not punitive to the offender, but protection from harm of the vulnerable.

We live in a multi-disciplinary world. The church needs to find a way to live in one too. There are lots of lay people in the church for sure, and beyond its membership, with gifts and skills that improve society. The church cannot live in silo. Medical students are taught two very valuable things early on (1) above all else do no harm and (2) defer to greater specialized knowledge. It's good advice adaptable for pastors.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 11:13pm BST

"if the tradition of confidentiality during confession is removed, might it mean that those abused too are in effect unable to go to confession if not yet ready to talk with the police?"

So again, the church would be complicit with the abusers, by helping to provide them with the secrecy that they need. Do you have the slightest evidence to support your contention that mandatory reporting (to social services, generally, not the police) reduces people's willingness to disclose to adults? And, even if you are right and it does, if a child discloses to an adult who then does nothing about it, how does that differ from the child not disclosing at all?

This is precisely what happened in Rotherham: children were told by their abusers that no-one would help them, and that was true: no one would help them. It cannot, must not, happen again. It doesn't matter what spurious reasons people confect to justify abandoning children to be raped, the moral good lies in stopping children from being raped.

1400 children were raped in Rotherham because good people did nothing. 1400 children. A complete large comprehensive. Don't let it happen again.

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 25 September 2014 at 12:01am BST

I'm sorry, but I think there's a huge difference between requiring a priest/confessor to keep mum in general, and requiring a priest/confessor to endanger others by silence. The idea that urging a child molester, serial rapist, murderer to turn themselves in will work is the most unbelievable example of magical thinking I've seen from adults. That isn't how those compulsions and fears work, and, frankly, IF they confess to anyone, they aren't looking to atone but to be told they're okay. They may feel bad about it - that's not the same as repentant. You want to protect the seal of the confessional? Then do as Jesus would have, without the blessing of civil authority. Be prepared to go to jail for it - if you really believe in it. Otherwise, you're playing with other peoples' lives for your qualms. The same people that love to quote Paul seem to forget that both he and Jesus did require some degree of discernment from Christians. "Do not judge" is not Lebowski's "It's all good, man."

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 25 September 2014 at 4:57am BST

This is a place where law can be very unwelcome.

I was a prison chaplain for nine years and the job I did would have been impossible (or very different) if there was no assumption that the seal was sacrosanct.
Victims are penitents too. Priests often hear of horrendous crimes and abuse from them, sometimes later in life. What then of the duty to tell?

If the matter comes then into the world of crime and punishment I have seen the victim suffer terribly through the justice system and emerge feeling abused once more ......

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 25 September 2014 at 8:21am BST

There have been terrible cases of priestly abuse.
As far as I know nobody has suggested that the confession was responsible for this abuse.
As far as I know the Rotherham scandal was because good people didn't do their job nothing to do with the sacrament of reconciliation ........

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 25 September 2014 at 12:14pm BST

Martin's point is important. The situation is not as straightforward as it may seem - and, obviously, there is no reason to suppose that those not yet willing to go to the police and testify in court about certain crimes, committed by or against them, will in future disclose these during confession if confidentiality is no longer assured in the confessional.

In the C of E, I believe clergy and laypeople with responsibility for children's activities in churches are already expected to report suspected abuse to social services: the exception is very narrow. In the Rotherham case, children and parents who sought help were not given this: the question here is whether the wishes of survivors should be overridden by clergy taking confessions, which could be seen as again disempowering them.

At any rate, it is important that any changes made be widely publicised so that for instance, if a teenager has been raped by a local gang who threaten to kill her if she tells the police, she knows if she can no longer trust a priest to keep this confidential if she mentions it during confession. In effect she might be barred from the sacrament if she wishes to stay safe. It may be argued that this is in the service of a greater good but it is not as simple as it may seem.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Thursday, 25 September 2014 at 1:17pm BST

In the U.S., this area is a matter of state law. California law, for example, provides for "clergy penitent privileges" under Evidence Code sections 1030 - 1034 (which I set out below to show how broadly protective the statute is; it also applies to religous bodies):

1030. As used in this article, a “member of the clergy” means a priest, minister, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church or of a religious denomination or religious organization.

1031. As used in this article, “penitent” means a person who has made a penitential communication to a member of the clergy.

1032. As used in this article, “penitential communication” means a 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.

1033. Subject to Section 912 [dealing with waivers], a penitent, whether or not a party, has a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, a penitential communication if he or she claims the privilege.

1034. Subject to Section 912 [again dealing with waivers], a member of the clergy, whether or not a party, has a privilege to refuse to disclose a penitential communication if he or she claims the privilege.

Posted by dr.primrose at Thursday, 25 September 2014 at 3:14pm BST

The solution may have to be for the priest to tell the penitent beforehand that offenses involving possible abuse or neglect of a minor (and in some places of an elderly person or person with disabilities) must be reported and are not protected by the seal of confession. The penitent has the option of either confessing and receiving absolution with the understanding that it will be reported to the authorities, or of declining to confess, in which case that sin won't be absolved.

I believe a greater reason for concern is where the abuse is revealed during the victim's confession, perhaps because s/he believes s/he is partially responsible for what happened (which is not unusual in abusive situations). Unless the child protection authorities are able to insure the child's safety, revelation of what was confessed could put him/her at greater risk. So, if the priest decides to report what the child confessed, what duty should s/he have to make sure the child is adequately protected?

Posted by Paul Powers at Friday, 26 September 2014 at 3:46am BST

Rod,
I was referring to the Quebec Charter.

I do have a legal background, but in American law, and practised law for 10 years before ordination. So the legal training makes me sensitive legal issues having an impact on my ministry (and having the diocesan chancellor as a parishioner means occasional conversations on the topic).

Clergy handbooks in both Montreal and Western Newfoundland (and probably the other two Newfoundland dioceses) treat the subject at length, but I'm not aware of any court rulings on the subject.

Posted by Jim Pratt at Friday, 26 September 2014 at 7:08pm BST

@ Jim Pratt, Sept.26, Jim thanks for your reply, clarification, additional information. You and perhaps others on this thread may be interested in this 2011 article from National Post, about this subject, referencing Cloyne,Ireland and the R.C. the seal of confession debate, but mostly as a segue into Canadian law.

Note especially the second last paragraph that states that all Canadian jurisdictions agree when a child is at risk all manner of privilege, solicitor-client, doctor-patient is suspended and reporting the risk is required.

http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/07/25/analysis-the-state-of-clergy-parishioner-privilege-in-canada/

While all of this is helpful in terms of whether or not and under what circumstances clergy might be required to testify, especially after the fact, it does not remove the moral dilemma. Which brings me back to my original position, i.e.protecting a child from abuse trumps the "morally absolute" expectation written into the Canadian (BAS) liturgy re The Reconciliation of a Penitent. Basically, I don't think it lets clergy off the hook legally, but more to the point, I don't think it is morally justified.


Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 26 September 2014 at 9:02pm BST

The removal of the expectation of confidentiality from confession in certain instances would set a precedent for further such changes and alter its very nature. I am not aware of any evidence to indicate that cutting people off from what could be an important step in a journey of penitence or healing would do more good than harm to children overall.

There is much that could be done that would make a positive difference, e.g. improved clergy and reader training to increase knowledge about abuse (not just ability to operate safeguarding procedures) and faster processes for investigating allegations within the church itself without compromising police and social services procedures.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Saturday, 27 September 2014 at 8:32am BST

It may also be worth noting that, in the UK, the capacity of social services and the police to respond in a timely and thorough way to allegations of abuse is being slashed to shreds by funding cuts. If congregations were aware of the seriousness of this plight and took action to stop it, it might make a huge difference.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Saturday, 27 September 2014 at 8:39am BST

We live in a secular society with a very definite division of church and state. The Church has no right to protect sex offenders or any other criminal for that matter. Don't you think it's about time the Church made a moral stand? For once it would be nice to see the rights of individuals taking precedence over religious dogma. The C of E have at least made serious efforts to build bridges, it's a pity the Catholic Church can't or rather won't do more to reform its out of date and out of touch policies.

Posted by Alistair at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 6:34pm GMT
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