A Church of England working party is to consider whether the Seal of the Confessional, which maintains confidential disclosures made to a priest during sacramental confession, should be amended, upheld or abolished.
A group of theologians, church leaders and safeguarding professionals will meet over the next 12 months to decide whether to amend the Seal following recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in October. It called for the UK and Welsh Governments to introduce legislation which places certain individuals – to be known as “mandated reporters” – under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse.
It reopened a debate over whether priests must break the confidentiality of confession. Canon law currently means that priests who hear a confession have an obligation not to disclose it to anyone. However, guidelines state the priest should refuse to give the abuser absolution until they have first reported themselves to the police.
In a statement responding to the recommendations, the National Safeguarding Steering Group, the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council said:
“The Church is committed to the reporting of any concern that could lead to the harm of a child or vulnerable adult, this is enshrined in House of Bishops policy. The Archbishop of Canterbury also stated his support for mandatory reporting legislation for regulated activities within his IICSA evidence.”
The Church has also responded more fully to other IICSA recommendations, including the setting up of a Child Protection Authority in both England and Wales. It says it would “welcome the opportunity to work with relevant government agencies to consider how a Child Protection Authority could provide independent oversight for safeguarding and hold the Church and other institutions accountable for implementing these vital recommendations".
IICSA also recommended a national redress scheme for survivors of sexual abuse in a church context. However, the Church of England says it will continue to develop its own scheme, which will “carefully consider the Inquiry’s suggested approach”. It says it is “currently in the process of developing national proposals for redress which aim to include financial compensation, psychiatric, therapeutic, spiritual and emotional support, acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the Church, apology, and support for rebuilding lives”.
The Church of England’s lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Jonathan Gibbs said:
“We must remember the purpose of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse; a wide ranging, statutory Inquiry investigating where institutions, including the Church, have failed to protect children in their care, building the case for change and improvements in how these institutions must protect children. The Archbishop of Canterbury was one of the first to call for this Inquiry on behalf of the Church and we now publish more detailed responses to the recommendations within the Inquiry’s final report that have particular relevance to the Church of England.”