Campaigners say the church continues to hide abusers under a ‘cloak of secrecy’
'Survivors of sexual abuse by priests have expressed dismay that the Church of England is set to uphold the confidentiality of confession against the urging of the archbishop of York.
A C of E working party, originally commissioned in 2014, has decided against the abolition or qualification of the “seal of the confessional”. Unless C of E bishops decide differently when they consider the group’s report, confessions of criminal acts will not automatically be passed on to the police.
The seal of the confessional came under scrutiny last year at the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse’s hearings into the Anglican church. Concerns are expected to be raised again at further hearings in July. Lawyers have said clerical abuse could have been prevented if priests had reported confessions.
In 2014, John Sentamu, the second most senior cleric in the C of E, argued the seal should not apply in child abuse cases. “How can you hear a confession about somebody abusing a child and the matter must be sealed up and you mustn’t talk about it?” he said.
Presenting the working party’s report on Wednesday, Mark Sowerby, the bishop of Horsham and deputy lead bishop on safeguarding within the church, said there were “legitimate concerns” about the seal of the confessional.
But the working party failed to reach “a common mind” on the issue. Instead, it recommended training for priests on how to deal with disclosures of criminal acts.
The church’s guidelines say that if someone discloses in confession that he or she has committed a serious crime such as child abuse, “the priest must require the penitent to report his or her conduct to the police or other statutory authority. If the penitent refuses to do so, the priest should withhold absolution.”
A responsible priest would “take the opportunity to influence” a penitent to ensure a criminal disclosure was shared with the police, but the priest would not report a crime themselves, said Sowerby.'
Read more: C of E abuse survivors dismayed as 'seal of confessional' upheld