18 October 2022

Anglicans, and the Confessional

I believe that a very serious situation is arising for ecumenical dialogue, and especially for the now-pointless (but still-expensive) organisation called ARCIC. 

ARCIC and its dialogue were set up on the explicit premise that the old disagreements would be sorted out, and that neither 'side' would put in place any new divergences

I wonder if the question of the Seal of the Confessional has ever been discussed at any level of 'ecumenical dialogue', nationally or internationally.

Whether or not it has, the subject is now about to become horribly relevant. This is because, in England, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is about to publish its Final Report, and this will be followed by heavy pressure for the (as yet unrepealed) canon maintaining the Seal of the Confessional in the C of E to be changed.

Some historical background.

This is how ARCIC has behaved from beginning to end. Hunwicke's First Law of Ecumenism is: ARCIC NEVER DISCUSSES ANYTHING RELEVANT. ARCIC began work in a decade when the chickens of Lambeth 1932 were coming home to roost: questions of sexual morality were the issue of the day.

These sexual concerns, in turn, bear upon the more basic question of the twentieth and twenty first centuries: whether Christians should resist, or follow, the Spirit and fashions of the Age. 

So what did the negotiators do?  

They buried their noses in Transubstantiation.

A little later, the Evangelicals wanted 'Justification' dealt with (Newman had disposed of it in a couple of hilarious pages in chapter XVII of Loss and Gain ... but no matter). At that time, in fact, the 'New Look' on S Paul had received broad adherence among Pauline scholars (Ed Sanders ... Covenantal Nomism ...) but the ARCIC wonderboys ignored all that and confined their discussions entirely within the cobwebby categories of three centuries of Prod scholasticism.

Of course, the ARCIC understanding, that neither side would introduce new divergences, had to be bull-dozed out of the way in order to allow for the 'ordination' of women to sacerdotal ministries within most Anglican provinces. 

But the new imminent divergence concering the Seal of the Confessional is, in some ways, even graver. You see, with the Anglicans going down that path, matters will be made much more difficult for Catholic clergy who may be prosecuted for failing to delate paedophile penitents. Catholic clergy will have been hung out to dry by their Anglican 'friends'.

The Anglicans will also have made it easier for Catholic priests to be sent to prison for contempt of court ... since, of course, a Catholic priest in the witness box is unable even to say "I never heard that in my Confessional", because one is not allowed to say anything about what transpires there. Or even to indicate it by a nod or a wink or a hint or an allusion.

Some moralists used to argue that one could deny having heard something in the confessional by assuming "I heard it while acting as a conduit to God; I did not hear it qua Father X". But this could have the unfortunate effect ... think about it ... of providing a court with evidence which could let a guilty defendant off the hook.

And it's even nastier than that. Anglican clergy probably hear very few confessions compared with the many that some Catholic clergy hear. So the Anglicans would be abandoning their Catholic 'partners in ecumenical dialogue' to be persecuted by the agents of the Zeitgeist with regard to a subject which really matters very little to the overwhelming majority of  Anglicans.

Well, so be it. It's a shame the Anglicans are so willing to kick Catholics in the teeth, especially after all those hypocritical decades of pious but wet nonsense about 'Ecumenism'. 

Perhaps it's just that they find it so terribly hard to get out of the habit of persecuting Catholics. But there is no need to worry, is there: in a century or two, with tears of emotion pouring from their  hypocritical eyes, their successors will formally and grandly apologise to our successors. 

Apology, of course, will make everything All Right, won't it?

In the mean time, we should stop wasting time and resources on dialogue, and tell the Anglicans what they can do with their ARCIC. 

The money thus saved could be spent dewreckovating sanctuaries.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father.

I weep for you,' the Walrus said:
I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one."

Ecumenism is the Universal Solvent of Tradition and I wish Lewis Caroll was still alive to describe it.

Moritz Gruber said...

The priest is allowed to say, though, "I never heard that", and this completely independent of whether or not he has heard it in the Confessional, because this wasn't known to him as to a man but as to God.

Consequently, he is allowed to also answer the question "Have you heard X in the confessional" with "I never heard that", in my opinion. Just leave the "no, comma," away.

If the interrogator knows Catholic technicalities, he might know to ask "That means, you have not heard it as part of a Confession you heard"? To this, obvious, the only answer is "As you know, I am not allowed to talk about that" or other words of similar effect (like "I would say 'nice try', if it weren't for the fact that trying me to break the Seal is not nice"). But then there's still some chance that non-Catholic interrogators don't know Catholic technicalities.

PM said...

At a slight tangent, I should point out that the clamour against the seal of Confession is a red herring. As Fr Frank Brennan (a Jesuit and lawyer) and other lawyers have observed in Australia, close analysis of abuse scandals shows that in nearly all of them there was more than enough information available to bishops and superiors in the external forum (i.e. not under the seal) to justify delating perpetrators to the police and degrading them from Holy Orders or expelling them from religious congregations. The exceptions, if any, would be rare.

Prayerful said...

The Seal of Confession must be absolute.

Considerations of impacting some criminal proceedings should not be even given any regard by those with authority. The slippery slope would come into play. Priest turning King's / State's evidence (at the cost of any genuine priesthood) for, say, a murder or aggravated rape on direction of the bishops then eventually why not too for 'transphobia' or (civil?) 'ecological crimes' holy Pope Francis so cares about like plastic in the ocean or illegal dumping or maybe angle grinding off of parking clamps (cordless ones throw up sparks but cutting a chain). If a case were supposedly to fall for want of a priest's breaking of the Seal, the Seal still cannot be broken and suggests perhaps incompetent investigators. Given the Anglican tradition (since the 19C) of involving Greek Rite or Old Catholic bishops in consecrations and ordinations, what Leo XIII said might not hold for all cases, and where a CoE priest offers Confession the pressure on him as a state employee or contractor to break the seal could be extraordinary.

There are undoubted complexities. Mr Ted McCarrick et al. had the habit of making Confession to priests they saw as potential whistleblower. Yet still, the Seal must be absolute, even if the Confession made might not be wholly sincere, but rather a means to silence either a victim or whistleblower.

armyarty said...

I sincerely doubt that many priests even remember what they hear in the confessional, or if they are really sure whom it is that they are speaking to.

Personally, as a layman, I never remember the confidences that are entrusted to me, once the matter is sorted. I suspect that priests are much the same. If you go into the thing intending never to use the information in any way, and being set on confidentiality, it is truly remarkable what you very quickly forget.

Especially if you want to.

PM said...

Fr Brennan also points out that the information from most confessions, especially those in inner-city churches where priests hear many of them behind grilles that guarantee anonymity, would be useless as evidence in court or even as intelligence to guide police investigations. 'Somebody said he had done X but I have no idea who he or the victim was, or where or when the offence was committed' wouldn't get the police very far, let alone prosecuting counsel.

Cherub said...

In Australia the Anglican Church sold out on the matter of the seal of the confessional. The Anglican Church of Australia which, in 2014, changed its
canon law to permit their ministers to tell others what they have heard in
confession provided it is to reveal the identity of a criminal offender. For this
ecclesial body, the State may enter “the silence and secrecy” of the “privileged
encounter between penitent and God”. No doubt, virtue-signalling Anglican
bishops enjoyed the reporting of their newly “enlightened” ideas.
The Australian Anglican Church said:

"The Australian Anglican Church has put the interests of children and victims of crime ahead of tradition and doctrine. Priests who hear confessions about serious criminal offences, including child abuse, Priests who hear confessions about serious criminal offences, including child abuse, will no longer be required to keep the confession confidential. It should be noted here that a serious offence includes not only a sexual
offence against a minor, but also to theft, assault, corruption on the part of a
politician, bribery and much more as well."

This Anglican bragging certainly allowed the various governments to abolish (as they saw it) the confidentiality of the confessional as far as the State is concerned. I have canvassed these and other like issues in my new book published last year.

Oh, and at the risk of wearying you, let me give you this quote from my book:

"It is of more than passing interest to note the hypocrisy of lawyers (including
judges and Royal Commissioners) who clamour for the seal of the confessional
to be broken, and for priests to be placed under a secularist legal obligation to
reveal the secrets they have heard there. These same lawyers make no
representations that lawyers should be forced to reveal what their clients have
told them even if their client has admitted to them that they have committed a crime. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The same might also be said
of journalists who in no way want their shield laws challenged so that they can
“protect their sources” but are quite willing to promote the secularists’ attack
on the seal of Confession."

Greyman 82 said...

Taking up PM's post above, how could a confessor ever be successfully prosecuted for failing to report information about some anonymous person who *said* he had committed a certain offence? How could the Crown ever prove beyond reasonable doubt that Father X had withheld information that could have led to the successful prosecution of a suspect, when Father X doesn't even know who the suspect is? In any case, Father X has only *hearsay* evidence about what the suspect may have done, which surely would not be admissible as evidence in the prosecution of the suspect?

Peter said...

The Anglican Church tried to be everything to everybody; it became nothing to nobody.
This is a useful lesson to the Catholic Church if they want their membership and donations to go off a cliff.