The lead bishop for safeguarding in England and Wales says mandatory reporting of disclosures of child abuse cannot break the seal of the confessional because it would turn the priest “from a minister of God to an agent of the state”. Source: The Tablet.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Sunday program, the Bishop of the Forces Paul Mason said that the nature of the confessional was determined by “the sacredness of the relationship of any person to God and being open to forgiveness”, and so “the Church facilitates that through the intermediary of the priest”.
He said that it is “as though the priest is not there in that confessional situation”.
Bishop Mason was responding to questions on the future of confession following the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published last Thursday.
Its central recommendation is mandatory reporting, which would make it a criminal offence to fail to report disclosures or clear evidence of abuse to the authorities.
The report specifies that despite arguments for “exemptions for some faith-based settings or personnel, and, in particular, in the context of sacramental confession”, no religious requirement could “ever justify the ill-treatment of children or prevent government authorities from taking measures necessary to protect children from harm”.
While the Church in England and Wales has welcomed the report, Bishop Mason said that it could not instruct priests to report confessions without undermining the sacrament.
“If we were to have mandatory reporting and the penitents were aware that anything said under the confessional seal could be revealed then they wouldn’t avail themselves of the sacrament in the first place, and the concern is that we would lose that one opportunity to talk to one of these people to encourage them to do what they need to do.”
Seal of the confessional cannot be compromised, says bishop (By Patrick Hudson, The Tablet)