Australian Anglicans abandon their “seal of ‘confession’. Trouble to follow.

The pressure will now rise, since Anglicans have betrayed Christian tradition and history (again).

Never mind that the Church of England has cobbled up a rite of baptism that omits any reference to the Devil (HERE), now we have this from CNW:

Anglicans in Australia abandon seal of confession for serious crimes

Anglican leaders in Australia have unanimously approved a proposal to abandon the confessional seal, authorizing priests to disclose information about serious crimes such as sexual abuse.

The General Synod in Australia, meeting on July 2, passed an amendment to the Anglican canon on confessional secrecy. The change must now be approved by individual dioceses, but Anglican leaders said that they would press for that approval.

The confessional seal has been a subject of tense political debate in Australia, with Catholic Church leaders insisting that it is inviolable. Their Anglican counterparts approved a proposal that would allow priests to disclose sins if they involved criminal offenses that would carry a penalty of more than five years’ imprisonment, and the penitent had not already confessed to police.

Frankly, we don’t need to care much about what Anglicans do, internally to their ecclesial community (not Church – HERE) since they are just shooting blanks over there on the other side of the Tiber. They do not have valid orders and do not validly absolve or confect the Eucharist.

That said, pressure will now be turned up on Catholics to do the same.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Norah says:

    What person who had committed a sin which could be punished under the law would be dumb enough to confess it knowing that their minister/priest would be obliged to inform the authorities? Furthermore the minister/priest would have to know the identity of the person confessing in order to report them to the police or would the police be waiting outside the confessional for the priest/minister to give them the signal that the person who confessed to breaking the law was confessing again and so could be arrested?

    This sounds to me that the Anglicans want to look good when the story is reported in the media.

  2. APX says:

    I didn’t even know Anglicans had actual comfession, let alone a seal of confession.

  3. JeffTL says:

    As an Anglican myself, albeit in the Episcopal Church in the United States, I don’t like this one bit. Sacramental reconciliation is for the healing of souls, a duty of the church that far exceeds the value of any desire to do the work of detectives and prosecutors for them.

    It’s also important to remember that a breached confessional seal, like any form of self-incrimination, may make it more difficult for a particular penitent to negotiate a plea bargain, which would in essence create unfair sentencing conditions relative to other similar offenders. We must not create any circumstance in which people who are doing the right thing and going to confession as often as is necessary and/or desirable are placing themselves at a disadvantage in the courts. It would actually be better to pronounce general absolutions than to open this can of worms.

  4. Lisa Graas says:

    The pressure will also be up on Anglicans who grow weary of protestantism and desire to come home to the Catholic Church.

    Come home, Anglicans!

  5. Lisa Graas says:

    The pressure will also be up on Anglicans who grow weary of protestantism and desire to come home to the Catholic Church.

    Come home, Anglicans!

  6. Legisperitus says:

    It says to me that they no longer believe in the salvation of souls.

  7. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Please note:

    Since Catholic I-phones work the same way as Protestant ones, and can have their microphones activated remotely, it would be a good idea for Catholic clergy to leave their electronic devices off their persons when they intend to hear confessions.

    As a matter of a point of law, could the Australian Anglicans’s situation be used to compel others to follow suit?

    Where’s Sister when you need her to betray the side, by the way?

  8. bernadettem says:

    I think that the same thing will be started throughout the whole Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church.
    Actually as a former member of TEC many years ago, I do not recognize the Anglican/TEC church anymore.
    Although there are still orthodox Christians who remain in it, it appears to no longer be an orthodox Christian church, just another secular group, e.g. Masons etc.

  9. Joseph-Mary says:

    I did not know Anglicans kept confession! That was news. And since Henry and all jettisoned the sacraments but for baptism, it does not have the same meaning as the Sacrament in a Catholic Church. But now a sinner, perhaps a thief, cannot trust a pastor even when they might be able to make restitution on their own, etc. With a serious crime, a Catholic priest might well tell the penitent that they must turn themselves in but never ever can the true priest break the seal of the Sacrament without damning himself.

  10. jacobi says:

    This sort of thing is inevitable as the various protestant ecclesial communities secularise and therefore gradually but steadily paganise. As you say Father it doesn’t really matter in that their orders are not valid and anyone who confessed, as another comment has said, would be dumb indeed.

    It is important in that it marks the secularisation of society and therefore the increasing hostility to us.

    Two things are important however. This must not happen within the Catholic Church where there are secularising factions at present, and we really must pursue Ecumenism where it make sense, not with the protestants, although we should still be “nice” to them, but with the beleaguered Churches of the Middle East, and of course with the Orthodox.

  11. James0235 says:

    I suspect a new motto for the Anglican Communion may be in the works:

    Anglicans: Betraying Christian Tradition and history since 1534.

  12. Johnno says:

    They might as well just install into the confessional a button that the good vicar an push that will drop down bars and hold the penitent inside until the police get there. Maybe even one of those rotating bobby lights can pop out from the top too. And then maybe the vicar’s chair can rotate to the side, wheels pop out and he can drive the transformed confessio-paddy wagon out the front doors which will slide open and clear the way to the lock-up just like when Batman emerges from the Batcave.

    The sooner this false religion dies off, the better.

  13. Peter in Canberra says:

    Yes, this will put more pressure on the Catholic Church in Australia, and probably elsewhere.
    However this is a mess that clergy and bishops – Catholic and Anglican alike – have made for themselves and for us. If they had all, or at least many more, had acted with rectitude instead of hiding and dodging over the abuse scandal over the last 40 odd years things would be a lot different.
    Anyone who has followed the proceedings of the Royal Commission into Abuse in Institutions in Australia over the last year can only shake their head and ask “how could the leadership turn a blind eye or actively hide these atrocities then? and why can’t they see what a problem it is now?”. This will be a ‘gift’ that keeps on ‘giving’.
    The comments of some very senior Australian clergy have left much to be desired. In a secular institution there would have been a wholesale clean out but not in the Church apparently. That some senior clerics continue to hold their positions amazes me.
    While this Anglican ‘solution’ is no solution, perhaps it indicates, that despite the barbs we might hurl at them, that some of them at least have registered that this is serious and that the broader society will not tolerate them, or us, to govern our affairs in these matters internally precisely because our hierarchies have demonstrated that they cannot [be trusted] govern them internally. We profess a higher standard and the secular world can see that we have not met it.

  14. JBS says:

    I doubt many murderers and rapists go to Anglicans for confession anyway. Everyone, including Protestants and pagans, knows that if you want to go to confession, request an exorcism or get your house blessed, you have to call a Catholic priest. I knew that years before I became Catholic.

  15. scribbly says:

    I too was greatly disturbed when I heard this, and in the same week that Crisis wrote that the British Anglicans were discussing removing ‘Satan’ from the Baptismal Rite [Over Here]. Luke 18:8?

    This initially had an uncanny resemblance to very early Australian history, from Wikipedia:

    In early Colonial times, Church of England clergy worked closely with the governors. Richard Johnson, a chaplain, was charged by the governor, Arthur Phillip, with improving “public morality” in the colony, but he was also heavily involved in health and education. The Reverend Samuel Marsden (1765–1838) had magisterial duties, and so was equated with the authorities by the convicts. He became known as the “flogging parson” for the severity of his punishments. Some of the Irish convicts had been transported to Australia for political crimes or social rebellion in Ireland, so the authorities were suspicious of Roman Catholicism for the first three decades of settlement and Roman Catholic convicts were compelled to attend Church of England services and their children and orphans were raised by the authorities as Anglicans.

  16. Gerard Plourde says:

    An excellent reminder of the essential difference between the Catholic and Protestant mindsets and the complete lack of understanding of the Sacrament by the Australian Anglican Church. (To be expected, of course, as the Anglicans have to accommodate both the Anglo-catholic party and a Calvinist wing simultaneously.) The attitude they exhibit indicates they are looking at the experience from an almost secular mindset – purely as a kind of therapy. Catholics recognize that the stakes are much higher in the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. We understand that the Sacrament provides the Grace of God and has eternal consequences by helping to effect the interior conversion of the penitent, thus requiring total confidentiality. The battle being waged is not new as the witness of St. John Nepomucene attests.

  17. Mike says:

    If the notion of sin is considered by the Anglican ecclesial community to be irrelevant, as one may infer from the revisions to the baptismal rite of the Church of England, what meaning does Confession have?

    I ponder this in the context of Catholicism as it was presented to my generation in the last third of the twentieth century. While the subsequent and current renascence of the sacrament of Penance is comforting, it is less comforting to consider what the seal of the confessional might or might not mean to priests deeply steeped in the relativistic and specious “spirit of Vatican II” who found themselves under threat by the State.

    Let us pray that in such a situation, as in any, all our priests may be infused with the grace courageously to carry out their duty. By our witness, may we lay Christians emulate, no matter the price in lost comfort or liberty, the example and teaching of brave and faithful confessors.

  18. Pingback: Don’t Go To Confession; Humpty-Dumptying The English Language; More | William M. Briggs

  19. Imrahil says:

    From back in better days when nobody would think of breaking this sort of confidentiality, we have a nice little joke:

    A man commits a murder and it lies heavily on his conscience. He visits a Jewish rabbi and says, “rebbe, I have committed murder”. Says the rabbi: “what! and why do you come to me anyway with that? what do you think I am, a Christian minister or something?”

    So, he goes on to a Calvinist preacher: “Reverend, I have committed murder”. Says the preacher, “It matters not whether you sinned or not sinned, it matters only whether you are believing you are saved – besides, murder? what do I think I should do, praise you or something?”

    So, he goes to a Catholic priest: “Father, I have committed murder”. Says the priest: “How often, my son?”

  20. Juergensen says:

    The tree of Martin and Henry never stops bearing fruit.

  21. asperges says:

    There are points here apart from the obvious:
    1. Confession is rare in the Anglican Church, except perhaps in the very ‘high’ branches;
    2. In our Church, confession is usually anonymous: we ‘don’t log in,’ so how could a confessor report specifically on anyone with certainty?
    3. It would be quite impossible to enforce. Without a witness or record of the confession, the case would always fail in court (rules of evidence);
    4. In the days of the Tsars, Orthodox confessors were obliged to pass on to the State any criminal acts. To what extent they complied is uncertain.
    5. The state Church in England (Anglican) from Elizabethan times onwards was very much an instrument of the State (who attended services, who had done what).
    6. Here is another nail in the coffin of Christianity in our countries and culture.
    7. It also disproves the myth that all Churches are the same – all that dialogue and deeper understanding worth nothing at all, all superficial. Now the Catholic authorities (who will certainly not betray the faithful) are left in a most invidious situation thanks to more Anglican weakness;
    8. Although applying to Anglicans, it will undoubtedly damage the practice of Confession by association among Australian Catholics unless much reassurance is given.

    Shameful. It is a most serious situation. So far there are no such moves in the UK, but I imagine pressure will grow.

  22. Archicantor says:

    For readers unaware of this, Anglicans have practised confession ever since the Reformation. (The formula for priestly absolution is found in the Order for the Visitation of the Sick in the Book of Common Prayer.) It is not, however, taught to be generally (universally) necessary for all to avail themselves of it. The conventional motto is “None must; all may; some should”.

    Anglican clergy have also historically been bound by the seal of the confessional, but with an interesting wrinkle, since the Church of England was (and continues) a National Church, subject to the laws of the realm. The Church of England was governed by the Canons Ecclesiastical of 1603 until these were replaced in 1964 and 1969. Interestingly, the proviso for the seal of the confessional in Canon 113 of the original 1603 canons was never repealed and remains in force to this day. Here is what it says:

    Provided always, that if any man confess his secret and hidden sins to the minister, for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and ease of mind from him; we do not in any way bind the said minister by this our Constitution [i.e. a requirement for parish priests to report parishioners’ public crimes to the bishop if the parish church wardens, whose responsibility this normally was, were afraid to do so for fear of reprisal], but do straitly charge and admonish him, that he do not at any time reveal and make known to any person whatsoever any crime or offence so committed to his trust and secrecy (except they be such crimes as by the laws of this realm his own life may be called into question for concealing the same), under pain of irregularity.

    That is to say, a priest could never violate the seal of the confessional unless the laws of the realm specified that failing to disclose a particular crime was a capital offence. So, if the United Kingdom passed a law today according to which failing to report a confession of child sex abuse was a capital offence, then a priest who heard such a confession would not be bound by the seal. Interestingly, there has never been a law passed in England under which the exception to the seal in Canon 113 would apply. It is purely hypothetical. We probably ought to interpret the exception, therefore, as an assertion of the principle of the Royal Supremacy, which simply means that there is no higher ecclesiastical authority than the crown to which canon law appeals can be made.

    Of course, the current political climate is such that many people might agree, if asked, that sex offences against children should be capital crimes. Just as the Tudor and Stuart monarchs were terrified of rebellion and sedition, so our politicians today live in perpetual fear of child abuse scandals. It’s certainly hitting the front pages in the UK at the moment, and current and former politicians are having to explain apparent cover-ups nowadays associated in the popular mind with the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

    From the news reports, it seems that the rule will be that an Australian Anglican priest may, for the sake of public safety, disclose crimes punishable by imprisonment of five years or more (child abuse is not explicitly mentioned, but it is obviously the presenting issue), when the penitent has not already turned himself in to police. The provision is permissive rather than obligatory: it is available to priests only at the discretion of their own diocesan bishops, and even then a priest is free to exercise his own judgement.

    As a committed Anglican myself, I’m very uneasy about this decision (though it does not affect my own province of the Anglican Communion). On the other hand, as I’ve explained, it’s not altogether without precedent in Anglican canon law — though the Australian decision isn’t based on the priest’s personal legal liability, as is Canon 113 of the 1603 code. And I can well imagine that a case might come up once, maybe, in a priest’s career, when breaking the seal of the confessional might seem the only moral option.

    Perhaps the most important difference in legal ethos between Roman Catholic and Anglican canon law is that Anglicanism has historically lacked any mechanism of dispensations. Hard cases make bad law — and as a rule, contemporary Anglican General Synods can usually be relied upon to pass pretty bad ecclesiastical laws. But Anglicans facing hard cases have had no mechanism to deal with them except to build dispensations into the laws themselves. I’m not suggesting that the Catholic Church has ever given dispensations from the seal of confession, since that Church holds the seal to be of divine command. But the whole question of defining what is and is not of divine command has been precisely the point at issue between Rome and the churches of the Reformation.

    While I agree that it is likely that this Anglican decision will contribute to the popular pressure on the Catholic Church in Australia to change its approach to the seal of the confessional, at least this will be an opportunity for Catholics both to explain the importance of the seal and also to explain, in a clear and public way, what other public safeguards exist despite the inviolability of the seal (and to consider whether these safeguards are adequate).

  23. Eriugena says:

    Quick couple of questions: 1) How many Sacraments did Our Lord and Saviour institute? 2) How many of these divine gifts did Henry VIII and his sect recognise? 3) How did Leo XIII (O for someone to propose his beatification/canonisation!) define Anglican “orders”? 4) Why is anyone surprised about any of this?
    If the communist party of North Korea did the same sort of thing, nobody would find it particularly strange, so why does everybody wonder why the first revolutionaries of the modern world do the same thing. There has NEVER been, in the almost two thousand years of Church history, a single Priest who betrayed the seal of the Confessional. Some people who dress up as priests but who have no Pope, no Sacraments, no authority, no credibility, are doing just this.

  24. Nancy D. says:

    The fact is, restitution , is one of the elements of The Sacrament of Confession; if a penitent does not make restitution for his/her sins, including presenting himself/herself to the proper authorities here on Earth, on what basis can his/her sins be forgiven from Heaven?

  25. Kirk O says:

    I have had a therory for awhile about why Protestants don’t have or use all of the Sacraments. If i understand it correctly in the past they all did but in time dropped them here and there. Could this be because in the beginning the descenting priests and bishops did have valid orders and the sacraments worked. Then over time when the preiets and bishops died and the lines back to Peter and Jesus vaniahed, that they stoped workng. So if the people and churches where not getting anything from the sacraments why not start believing that they are not needed and drop them. I see the same problem with Catholics that do not receive the Eucarist with a clean soul. They stop believing Jesus is truly present because if you recieve Him while in a state of sin more harm comes to you than good. They do not experience the power of the Eucarist and then can’t believe He is truly there.

  26. msc says:

    I’m not particularly bothered by omitting the Devil from the baptismal rite. If one is asked if one believes in, loves, and follows God, adhering to his commandments, then ipso facto, one is rejecting the Devil. Yes, I would rather keep the traditional rite, but its essential meaning can remain without specific mention of the Devil.
    Is Nancy D. factually correct? If I have stolen something, say, and go to confession, can the priest require me to go the secular authorities and report myself as part of absolution? If he can, does he have to? To what degree are sins tied up with secular laws?

  27. Eliane says:

    This legal requirement seems to demand that the confessor know criminal statutes and penalties the same as a police officer or prosecutor does AND discover the identity of the penitent, if he did not already know it, for the purpose of turning him in. Thus the confessional would be a spy operation. I would say that Anglican confession, to the extent it has existed, is dead.

  28. Gerard Plourde says:


    It’s been a while since I learned about this, but my understanding is that some form of act that shows contrition and a firm purpose of amendment is required. If I steal something, my penance would require that I make amends to the person from whom I stole if that is possible. The secular authorities are in this case tangental to the matter. In the case where restitution to the injured party is not possible, some other indication of reform would be required. If a penitent carried out a broad-based Madoff-like scheme disclosure of it to the public by the penitent might be a condition of absolution leaving open the possibility of action by the authorities.

  29. tzard says:

    Of course, more pressure will be put on Catholics. The reason being is to many, this is proof that things such as the seal are mere “policies” which can be changed by a vote. “The anglicans do it, why don’t those Catholics”. It’s now political – time for political pressure and lobbying.

  30. Random Friar says:

    To paraphrase Mr. Spock:

    If I were Anglican, and they told me to violate the seal, I believe my response would be, “Go to Hell.”

    Of course, as a Catholic priest, my reply would actually be, “Go to Hell.”

  31. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Is this a realistic scenario:

    The police interrogate an Anglican clergyperson who, since s/he follows the teachings of the Australian branch of the community, cooperates in the naming of criminals who have confessed to hir, and the crimes they have committed — in continued violation of the truth?

    “She’s not my wife”
    “Or words to that effect”
    “He confessed to me that he had……..”

  32. Nancy D. says:

    With all due respect, if one has broken a just law, a law that is consistent with our Judeo-Christian principles, a condition of absolution is, in fact, to make restitution, including having the sinner present himself to the proper authorities. The Sacrament of Penance requires that one confesses one’s sin(s), is repentant for one’s sin(s), makes restitution for one’s sin(s) and be willing to serve one’s penance. The Catholic Church has always taught that there is a seal of confession, but in order for The Sacrament of Penance to be valid, one must confess, repent, make restitution, and serve one’s penance.

  33. Archicantor says:

    @Eriugena (9:08am) “1) How many Sacraments did Our Lord and Saviour institute? 2) How many of these divine gifts did Henry VIII and his sect recognise?”

    I assume you meant these questions rhetorically, but they actually open up important ground for discussion. The answer to question 1, while defined for Catholics, is disputed ecumenically, and the answer is not susceptible to any mutually acceptable “proof”. Anglicans have always provided liturgically for the seven sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church, while disagreeing with Rome about their origin and whether all are “generally (universally) necessary to salvation”.

    Question 2 is easy to answer, but not in the way you seem to think: Henry VIII recognized seven sacraments, wrote a book to that effect, and legislated that English clergy must subscribe to this opinion. Those laws were repealed under Henry’s heir Edward VI, whose new laws were in turn repealed (in a Roman direction) by Mary I. What eventually became the Church of England’s official teaching on the number of sacraments was only defined in the reign of Elizabeth I in the 39 Articles of Religion ratified by the Convocation of Canterbury in 1563 (and endorsed by Parliament in 1571). The distinctive Elizabethan Settlement of religion went underground after the execution of Charles I (during the Commonwealth of 1649-1660), but it survived that period of legal proscription to become what we know today as Anglicanism. Catholics desiring to be historically accurate should avoid saying that Anglicanism was a creation of Henry VIII. Henry merely effected a temporary schism with Rome, putting himself in the place of the pope for purposes of canon law. If this counts as founding a “sect”, that sect did not survive Henry’s death.

    You contend that “There has NEVER been, in the almost two thousand years of Church history, a single Priest who betrayed the seal of the Confessional”. Would it not stand to reason that the repeated decrees of synods and councils that priests who do this are to be deposed is proof enough that there were priests who betrayed the seal?

    (By the way, I am one of many Anglicans who think that the optional revised baptism rite for the Church of England is stupid. I suppose I can’t fault the intention of trying to craft a liturgy of a kind that won’t be completely unintelligible to basically unchurched people who nevertheless want to have their children baptized. But in my experience, it’s the unchurched, folk-religion types whose belief in the Devil is most developed and who most value baptism as an apotropaic ritual!)

  34. Kirk O says:

    I just noticed my misspelling of the Eucharist, forgive me and my thumb :)

  35. Supertradmum says:

    Tip of the iceberg for Catholic priests….I give it max two years before Catholics are openly persecution down-under and here.

  36. The Cobbler says:

    Nancy D.: quite so, and it certainly means that policies such as the one under discussion here are more or less unnecessary/redundant in Catholicism, but that doesn’t make the Seal any less inviolable or sacrosanct.

    On the topic in general: I forget where it is in canon law, but I recall having heard that the penalty for a priest who violates the Seal of Confession is basically all the worst penalties the Church has rolled up into one — excommunication reserved to the Pope, suspension of all priestly rights and faculties, and permanent exile. I’m not even sure what else there is at that level of severity.

  37. Gerard Plourde says:

    @ The Cobbler

    “I’m not even sure what else there is at that level of severity.”

    He has also committed a Mortal Sin. So, if he remains unrepentant he faces, as the old Act of Contrition put it, “the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell”.

  38. The Cobbler says:

    Gerard Plourde, I guess I took for granted that any penalties the Church attaches are in addition to the, shall we say, “basic” problem of sin — for instance, it’s harder to get an excommunication lifted than to go to Confession and have sins forgiven, and one could be stuck with exile regardless of repentance… but, that’s a fair point nonetheless.

  39. persyn says:

    From the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s FB Page – as you can see, the future is now.

    Statement of the Diocese of Baton Rouge

    July 5, 2014

    A local television station is promoting a story that it plans to air during the coming week. The report will center on a legal case in which the diocese and a diocesan priest have been named as defendants. The case seeks to compel the priest to testify about whether he heard the confession of a particular person and if so what was allegedly communicated during confession. The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal held that the long standing rule that communications made during the sacrament of confession are protected by the First Amendment right of freedom to exercise religion. This applies to all religions, not only Catholics. The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed with that court and ruled that a trial had to be held to decide the issue.

    A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and cannot be violated. A priest can never break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. In this case, the priest has acted appropriately in not testifying about any alleged confessions, following Church law which does not allow it.

    Because the diocese and the priest see this as an extremely important principle to protect, relief in the federal courts will be sought. The issue will be brought to the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary.

    A more full statement from the diocese will be posted Monday on the diocesan website.

  40. Nan says:

    Oh, I thought Anglicans only had 2 valid sacraments anyway; the trouble is that Edward VI changed the ordination rite and it wasn’t until 150 years later that anyone realized it was an issue. Seemingly to their surprise, Pope Leo XIII, determined that they don’t have valid holy orders, thus, only baptism, which really, in emergencies, anyone can do, and marriage, the ordinary ministers of which are the couple, are valid sacraments.

    With regard to accusations of hiding things and moving priests who were molesters, etc, take a good look at what society overall was doing these last 50 years and you should find that the Anglican church was doing the same as everyone else; it’s easy to say they were hiding things when it’s likely to have been the same as everyone else, who were also moving teachers, etc. to other posts with no disclosure of problems.

  41. Victoria says:

    Father, I’m concerned and confused by the CNW item, by your comments and some of those of others here.

    I noticed that the news report you linked doesn’t follow through to the source material that’s freely available on the web on a dedicated page for the Anglican Church in Australia’s General Synod. While I agree with you about the futility of all things Anglican (apart from Evensong), maybe your source is firing a little early and slightly off target.

    I was really disturbed by the report, especially as I have a number of Anglo-Catholic friends who are solid supporters of tradition in places like All Saints, St Kilda (which is sort of starting to merge into St Aloysius, Caulfield). To have their trust in the confessional eroded in any way would be a very serious cause for concern, so I looked at the General Synod website and found the text of the motion from last week. You can find it on page 13 here:

    It doesn’t look like the Australian Anglicans have actually done anything (yet). It looks like they’ve agreed to act in this way at some future time (probably the next General Synod, in three years). It also looks like the seal is being made conditional in particular situations, not lifted absolutely. So maybe it’s not armageddon. Still, I’m not sure this is such a fine distinction either.

    What would any of the priests here do if someone came and confessed to him about a serious crime? [Internal forum? Sacramental confesssion? You KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.] It doesn’t have to be as extreme as murder. I think what the Anglicans have in mind is specific sexual crimes, given the Royal Commission that’s under way here.

    So, let’s sketch some hypotheticals for the priest-readers here. What would you do if someone came and confessed to having molested children in their care? [Internal forum? Sacramental confesssion? You KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.]I agree it’s unlikely, given that such a person is more likely to believe they’re doing good to the children concerned, above and beyond any cunning about knowing they’re doing something that’s criminal in the first place.

    So here’s a couple of more likely scenarios where conscience might come calling. What if someone came and confessed to carrying out systematic financial corruption in their workplace (say, to support a gambling habit)? Or if a man came and confessed to regularly beating up his wife and children? These are serious offences that are both criminal and sinful. [Internal forum? Sacramental confesssion? You KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.]

    And let’s assume you did have someone confessing to a rape or a history of paedophilia in your confessional, what would you do? [Internal forum? Sacramental confesssion? You KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.]

    [I deleted the rest of this as being outside the scope of the topic of this entry.]

  42. jhayes says:

    Persyn, I found the LA Supreme Court opinion here:

    It held that the district court was right in saying that a person who made a confession can testify that she made it and what she discussed with the priest The Church had asked that that testimony be excluded.

    The district court ruling it upheld was:

    Shortly before trial was scheduled to commence in the present matter, the Church filed its motion in limine, seeking to prevent the plaintiffs from “mentioning, referencing, and/or introducing evidence at trial of any confessions that may or may not have taken place” between plaintiffs’ minor child and the priest, while the priest was acting in his official capacity as a Diocesan priest and hearing confession from his parishioner. The trial court denied the motion, finding the testimony of the minor child regarding the confession was relevant and, certainly, as the holder of the privilege, she was entitled to waive it and testify. However, the trial court “did recognize the conundrum with which [the priest] is presented, and I know his solution to that is going to be that he is not going to say anything about any confession.”

    The LA Supreme Court endorsed the idea that, under LA law, the confidentiality of confessions is for the benefit of the penitent and not the priest. I suppose that may be the issue that goes to the US Supreme Court if the penitent waives the privilege and wants the priest to testify.

  43. jhayes says:

    Thomas seems to say that a penitent can authorize the priest to reveal sins told in Confession:

    I answer that There are two reasons for which the priest is bound to keep a sin secret: first and chiefly, because this very secrecy is essential to the sacrament, in so far as the priest knows that sin, as it is known to God, Whose place he holds in confession: secondly, in order to avoid scandal. Now the penitent can make the priest know, as a man, what he knew before only as God knows it, and he does this when he allows him to divulge it: so that if the priest does reveal it, he does not break the seal of confession. Nevertheless he should beware of giving scandal by revealing the sin, lest he be deemed to have broken the seal.

    Reply to Objection 1. The Pope cannot permit a priest to divulge a sin, because he cannot make him to know it as a man, whereas he that has confessed it, can.

  44. Philip Gerard Johnson says:

    “That said, pressure will now be turned up on Catholics to do the same.”

    Agreed. But I’ll die first.

  45. Imrahil says:

    Dear Eriguena (and Archicantor),

    I second much of what the dear Archicantor says (except the part about the Seven Sacraments, and I’ll defend the Catholic “tradition” of ascribing the rise of Anglicanism to Henry VIII in so far as he started the schism and the heresy then grew, even if against his intentions, on the acre he had ploughed).

    As for Catholic priests never breaking the seal of the confessional, I might estimate (and hope) hold that the number who did so was surprisingly small, yet there have been such cases.

    For instance (a rather shaking anecdote), there was a from an outwardly traditional and pious, perhaps a bit too strict Catholic house who (at least according to his claim) one did a boyish prank and Confessed it, resolving to tell his parents only later (for some rather legitimate reason I forgot). He was then confronted by his father about it, who could only have gotten the information from the priest (a friend of the family) – apparently the devoutness of the family did not include respecting the Seal.
    Well, the boy went on to lose his religion, ascribe to another creed then en vogue by way of replacement, and killed three and a half million men (though he said that one million of them was by disease and starvation and thus not direct murder). He was the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss.
    Good part of the story is that, moved by the kindness of Polish Catholics, he returned to the Faith and received the Holy Sacraments of Dying (except, of course, Extreme Unction) before he went to the gallows. May he rest in peace.

    Dear Nancy D,
    “restitution” refers to giving goods back as far as possible (mostly 7th commandment issues, but also reputation, etc.). In addition to restitution, there is of course the penance, and submitting to secular punishment is a penance, but it is not to my knowledge a required penance. This is, perhaps (I’m speculating) because the primary reason for the State to punish is not undo the deed (which in a sense cannot be done anyway – except by Christ’s Most Precious Blood; the imposed penances are mere acknowledgements, as it were), but heal the wound of the order of law by inflicting a wound to the offender (with the welcomed side-effect of deterrence). As the sinner having repented is no longer a sinner spiritually, this is perhaps judged no longer necessary.
    At any rate, St. Alphonsus makes quite neat distinctions about what must be done with an adultery by a woman which resulted in a child (cost of his upbringing, inheritance etc.) if for fear of violent wrath and/or legal punishment (I don’t quite remember) the adultery cannot be confessed to the spouse. And Manzoni draws a near-saintly picture of a multiple murderer and outlaw who repents of his sins and returns on the good path (even uses his outlaw skills for organization when, legally, dealing with a state of public disorder), who never finds it necessary to submit to worldly authority for punishment.

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