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The Seal of the Confessional
Posted on the 17th Nov 2018
Meeting in London today, the Forward in Faith National Assembly has unanimously called on the House of Bishops to re-affirm the Seal of the Confessional as 'an essential principle of the doctrine of the Universal Church, as received by the Church of England'. The Assembly also called on priests of The Society to reassure the faithful that they will maintain absolute confidentiality with regard to what is confessed in sacramental confession.
Moving the motion, Fr Paul Benfield commented that the Seal 'is not some doctrine invented by high-church Anglicans'. He reminded the Assembly that in 1959 resolutions reafirming the Seal as 'an essential principle of Church doctrine' were passed by the Convocations of Canterbury and York without dissent. The motion simply called on the House of Bishops 'to reaffirm what was expressed in 1959 and has been an essential part of church doctrine of the Universal Church since before the Reformation'.
Fr Philip Barnes explained that he had heard 'many, many confessions' when ministering at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and as a parish priest. He commented that in an internet age in which 'secrets can be revealed at the click of a button... the Confessional is one of the few places left where a young person (or an older one for that matter) can have confidence that they will be heard without being exposed.' He added, 'It was never abusers who made a confession, ever. But I did have survivors who wanted to talk about what had happened to them... The loss of confidence that setting aside the seal of the confessional would create would risk us losing a means of grace for those who are survivors of abuse.'
The addresses given at the Assembly are published here.
Resources about the Seal of the Confessional are available here.