Seal of confessional relaxed for Anglican priests in Australia where crime involved

Anglican priests in Australia allowed to report serious crimes

Anglican  ministers are now obliged to keep confessed serious crimes  secret only if he or she is satisfied the penitent has already reported the offence to police. Photograph: Walter Bibikow/the Image Bank/Getty

Anglican ministers are now obliged to keep confessed serious crimes secret only if he or she is satisfied the penitent has already reported the offence to police. Photograph: Walter Bibikow/the Image Bank/Getty

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 19:30

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia has voted to change the requirement that its clergy maintain the seal of the confession in all circumstances.

It allows Anglican priests in Australia to report serious crimes if the person making the confession has not reported the offence to police.

A minister is only obliged to keep such an offence secret if he or she is satisfied the penitent has already reported the offence to police.

The proposer of the motion, barrister Garth Blake, told Synod the church should not act as a cloak for criminals. “It seemed to me that protecting children and the vulnerable takes precedence over the confidentiality of confessions,” he said.

The motion was backed by the Synod, but will only come into practice when ratified by individual dioceses.

Private confession is not common in most churches of the Anglican Communion worldwide, including the Church of Ireland. Its theology, that the priest is acting in persona Christi, was rejected by the Reformation. However it was revived in some sections of Anglicanism during the 19th century.

Rev Stephen Farrell, diocesan and provincial registrar in the Church of Ireland united dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, said its priests were not obliged to preserve the seal of the confessional in instances of child abuse, for example.