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.

 



God's Church in the World: the Gift of Catholic Mission

Posted on the 21st Sep 2018



photo: Edoardo Fanfani

 

This week over 150 people participated in a conference on catholic mission within the Church of England co-sponsored by Forward in Faith and Anglican Catholic Future. Part of the conference took place at Lambeth Palace at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who welcomed participants and encouraged them to consider what it means to give light and salt to the world. 

 

Keynote speakers included Rowan Williams, Alison Milbank, and Luke Miller. Focussing on mission as gift, Dr Williams spoke of the catholic tradition as offering an 'awareness of the already-happening nature of the kingdom', and reminded delegates that to engage in mission is to extend the invitation to creation to engage in God's very being. Dr Milbank reminded participants that mission does not proceed from lack or scarcity, but from sharing in the inexhaustible riches of God's abundant life; and that in mission we invite everyone to share the Trinitarian exchange of love and self-giving. Archdeacon Miller drew attention to the practical ways in which mission is already being carried out in catholic contexts, highlighted the intrinsic connection between mission and personal holiness, and reminded participants that catholic practice done well is inherently evangelistic and will lead to growth. 

 

Forward in Faith and Anglican Catholic Future co-sponsored the conference to highlight existing excellent catholic practice in mission, and to facilitate discussion on ways in which this outstanding practice may be further enhanced. It was also a way of living out the commitment to the mutual flourishing of the different integrities of the Catholic tradition within the Church of England, as embodied within the the Five Guiding Principles set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests in 2014. 

 



Nomination to the See of Sheffield: Lessons Learned

Posted on the 15th Jun 2018


Forward in Faith welcomes the review by the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, of ‘lessons learned’ from the various failures in handling the process following the nomination of Bishop Philip North to the See of Sheffield last year.

 

Mr Nye reports that some of what has been learned was put into practice in respect of the recent nominations of women to the Sees of London and Bristol. The lack of significant expressions of opposition to either nomination underlines the continuing commitment to the Five Guiding Principles on the part of those who will be unable, for theological reasons, to receive the new bishops’ ministry.

 

The Five Guiding Principles are foundational to the House of Bishops’ Declaration that was, in turn, an integral part of the 2014 settlement that enabled women to be nominated to episcopal sees. The Declaration makes clear that those who uphold the Church’s traditional teaching in respect of the episcopate continue to be eligible for nomination as diocesan bishops. We welcome Mr Nye’s recognition that ‘following the settlement, not enough was done to educate those in dioceses of [this] possibility’.

 

Like Mr Nye, we look forward to news of the progress of the Implementation and Dialogue Group in carrying out its task of remedying this lack of education about the Five Guiding Principles and the 2014 settlement more generally. We hope that, when the next traditional catholic is nominated to a diocesan see, the fruit of its work will be seen in much more generous responses within and beyond the diocese concerned.

 

The House of Bishops’ Declaration also said, ‘It will be important that senior leadership roles within dioceses continue to be filled by people from across the range of traditions.’ The non-implementation of this commitment over the last four years suggests that educational work might usefully begin within the House of Bishops itself.

 



The Diocese of Canterbury and the Seal of the Confessional

Posted on the 31st May 2018


The Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy issued in 2015 by the Convocations of Canterbury and York state (in para. 3.5): ‘If a penitent makes a confession with the intention of receiving absolution the priest is forbidden (by the unrepealed Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603) to reveal or make known to any person what has been confessed. This requirement of absolute confidentiality applies even after the death of the penitent.’

 

However, the Bishop of Dover has issued the following instruction to clergy in the Diocese of Canterbury and the Deaneries of Guernsey and Jersey: ‘The Bishop emphasises that… Any priest hearing a confession, regularly or otherwise, must say prior to hearing that confession the following statement of confidentiality and safeguarding: “If you touch on any matter in your confession that raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding of another person or yourself, I am duty bound to pass that information on to the relevant agencies, which means that I am unable to keep such information confidential.” ’ Incredibly, the Diocese of Canterbury has denied that this instruction – which is cast in very wide terms indeed – has effectively 'abolished the Seal of the Confessional'.

 

Forward in Faith’s position remains as set out in 2015 in our submission to the working party on the seal of the confessional: we will resist as strongly as we can any attack on the integrity of sacramental Confession.

 

For a diocese to pre-empt synodical discussion of whether any aspect of ecclesiastical law should be changed is unacceptable. Forward in Faith calls for urgent action to bring the Diocese of Canterbury and the Channel Islands deaneries back into conformity with canon law and with the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy so recently issued by the members of the Houses of Bishops and Clergy in the provincial Convocations. If the Diocese of Canterbury is allowed to continue publicly to incite the clergy to breach canon law, that will set a very worrying precedent.

 



The Five Guiding Principles

Posted on the 8th Feb 2018



 

Forward in Faith is grateful for the announcement of the House of Bishops’ acceptance of the recommendations made by the Independent Reviewer in his review of the nomination to the See of Sheffield.

 

We welcome the publication by the Faith and Order Commission of The Five Guiding Principles: A Resource for Study. We hope that widespread study of this booklet will prevent recurrence of the misrepresentation of the Five Guiding Principles that occurred in 2017.

 

We welcome the appointment of a group, chaired by the Bishop of Rochester, to review what has been done to inform and educate clergy and laity about the 2014 settlement, distil examples of good practice, and provide further resources. We trust that all who have accepted membership of this group are now committed to upholding the House of Bishops’ Declaration, including the Five Guiding Principles.

 

We also welcome the appointment of Sir William Fittall to succeed Sir Philip Mawer as the Independent Reviewer, and wish to express our thanks to Sir Philip for his work. Having played an important part in the process that resulted in the 2014 settlement, Sir William is well qualified to take over the role of defending it.

 

† TONY WAKEFIELD                                             LINDSAY NEWCOMBE

The Rt Revd Tony Robinson                                  Dr Lindsay Newcombe

Chairman                                                                Lay Vice-Chairman

 



 

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