Thinking Anglicans

Anglican Catholic Future: Statement on the Seal of Confession

Anglican Catholic Future has published this Statement on the Seal of Confession.

Anglican Catholic Future responds to the current consultation on the seal of confidentiality associated with the ministry of confession and absolution out of a confidence in the abiding worth of that practice, and of its absolute confidentiality. This ministry has a distinctive part to play for many in fashioning a life of continued conversion to Christ. We hope that the attention now being paid to it by the working group, and by the General Synod, will lead to a renewed appreciation of the part that it occupies in the mission of the church, and the spiritual life of its members, and could occupy even more fully. We hope that every diocese will provide instruction for existing priests in this manifestation of the love of God, and that every training institution will provide instruction for those in preparation for priestly ministry.

The full text of the statement is available on the ACF website in PDF format here.

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James ByronRod GillisPeter DFather Ron SmithPam Recent comment authors
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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Judging by the full statement from Anglican Catholic Future casuistry appears to be alive and well. Medieval hocus pocus aside, protecting the vulnerable from abuse and potentially criminal activity is a moral imperative.

Pam
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Pam

Trust cannot be built unless there is full confidence in the seal of the confessional by the laity.

rjb
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rjb

No, Rod Gillis, reaching out to sinners and offering them the prospect of salvation is always the imperative for the church. Secular society has its own moral imperatives, but they should never primarily be ours. There is a veritable army of counselors, psychologists, lawyers, welfare agencies, and the punitive apparatus of the state dedicated to the important work of “protecting the vulnerable from abuse and potentially criminal activity.” Augustinian Christians can be grateful that such organs exist, even if only as a necessary evil. But the church has an entirely different function. If you wish to put it in stark… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Pam, medical confidentiality isn’t absolute, yet patients trust their physicians; attorney-client privilege isn’t absolute, yet … well OK, insert lawyer joke as appropriate, yet criminals are able to mount a defense.

I see no reason whatsoever why the church, and only the church, should be free of reasonable restrictions on confidentially. Hocus pocus is about all we can appeal to, and I’d rather not.

PS
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PS

As a Priest in the Catholic tradition of the Church and a Psychotherapist, I take issue with the comments of rjb. It would seem to me that claiming those organisations that seek to protect the vulnerable as a ‘necessary evil’ is perverse and leads me to question if the tradition you are coming from is in fact an ‘unnecessary evil’. As a therapist, confidentiality is at the heart of everything we do, to the point where we do not even identify our clients to our supervisors. That said, it wholly right and justifiable for a Priest to echo those same… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ rbj: Let me allay your suspicions. Sin, salvation, and repentance are central to an adequate theology. I’ll add to that the possibility of redemption for all. Notwithstanding, the notion that a failure to protect the vulnerable from known victims of abuse in order that the abuser may not die in a state of sin is indeed a form of magical thinking. Your rejoinder is an example of special pleading and false dichotomies, e.g. “Secular society has its own moral imperatives, but they should never primarily be ours.” The Christian church has reacted to an epidemic of criminal abusers among… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Anglo-Catholic as I am, and also a priest of ACANZP; I would like to point out that there is another way of practising penitence and absolution – contained in the liturgy of the Eucharist of our Churches of the Anglican Communion. As a prequel to the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation is invited, carefully, to make confession of their sins. The priest is then authorised to prnounce absolution. If one can live, quietly, with one’s conscience in this situation, then sincere penitence will surely guarantee absolution. Most communicants have not committed such severe sins as would every time… Read more »

Pam
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Pam

James Byron, if trust is important in a pastoral relationship (and I think it is) then confidentiality will be important as well. If it’s not a matter of breaking the law, but is a matter of a very personal nature, then I would expect that matter not to be shared.

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Father Ron makes an important point in his post when he notes the general confession with absolution by the celebrant in the Eucharist. The same applies to morning/evening prayer of course. This is a reminder of the differences that exist on this issue between Anglicans and Rome. See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3F.HTM Our situation differs not only with regard to the availability of general absolution; but the practice of individual private confession is not a statistically normative Anglican practice. There are widely different theological views about the nature of penance as a “sacrament”. Indeed, what would be the basis in Anglican theology for… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Thank you, Rod, for giving the link to the Roman Catholic rules re personal confession to a priest.

Obviously, Anglicans have no such embargo on the validity of the general Confession and absolution. The gates of Mercy, in this case, would seem to be wider for Anglicans than our fellow religionists.

Peter D
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Peter D

@James: medical confidentiality isn’t absolute, yet patients trust their physicians Actually James they very frequently do not. As soon as there is any prospect of confidence not being absolute they back away even if that means suffering severe physical illness, mental breakdown or suicide. People approaching counseling when told at the first meeting that confidentiality is limited never attend again even though it would be useful to them and their family. Especially where Children’s Social Services have been involved due to issues with one partner if the other partner develops a mental or physical health problem they find themselves unable… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ Peter D, “Otherwise our over-sensitive consciences are demanding a grave price; but from other people, not ourselves.” Unless of course, you are on the receiving end of information that could save a child or other vulnerable person from trauma that is physical, psychological or even spiritual. So much for over sensitive consciences. So much for anecdotal information. Like anyone else who has spent 35 years in parish ministry, I agree that there are a lot of people out there who are hurting and afraid to seek help. I would add on the basis of the same experience, that there… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Peter D, even if your assumptions about me were correct, since this issue rests not on my subjective feelings, but on what’s objectively reasonable, they’re irrelevant to the issue at hand and I’ll not explore them here.

We can, I take it, agree that people abused because a priest didn’t warn the authorities about an imminent danger will also be hurt. That being so, tightly-drawn exceptions to the seal of the confessional can be justified on the same grounds as used to justify limitations on attorney-client and doctor-patient privilege: protecting people from imminent danger.