Anglican bishops lobby for exceptions to mandatory reporting laws
Posted: Fri, 18th Aug 2023
Bishops ask that admissions of child sexual abuse during confession be exempted from mandatory reporting
An Anglican group has told the government laws mandating the reporting of child sexual abuse should not apply to religious confession.
Responding to a Home Office consultation on the introduction of mandatory reporting laws, Forward in Faith - a conservative Anglican group which opposes the ordination of women - said that an exception should be included to "make provision for the Seal of the sacrament of Confession".
The response was signed by eight Church of England bishops, including the bishops of Wakefield, Blackburn and Chichester. The latter, Martin Warner, holds one of the 26 seats reserved for Church of England clergy in the House of Lords.
Under the proposals announced by the government earlier this year, people who work with children in England would be obliged to report suspicions of abuse to authorities. Those who failed to do so would risk being prosecuted.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which published its final report last year, recommended the introduction of such measures, specifying that they should "not be subject" to religious exceptions, and that abuse must be reported even if it is revealed during "sacramental confession".
In its response, Forward in Faith said that obliging priests to breach the confidentiality of confession by requiring them to report abuse would compromise religious freedom. The law already requires that admissions of terrorism or money laundering during confession must be reported.
Forward in Faith also said that removing the absolute confidentiality of confession would harm survivors of abuse, adding that it was an "incredibly remote contingency" and "unproven concern" that perpetrators of abuse "will abuse the Seal [of confession]".
However, research by Irish academic Dr Marie Keenan suggests that confession has been used by clerical sex offenders as a "site of respite from guilt" and may enable "abuse to continue".
Richard Scorer, head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, has also said there is "ample evidence that many disclosures of child sex abuse are made in confession which, if they had been acted on, could have prevented subsequent abuse."
The NSS asked Lambeth Palace whether the Church of England supported the stance of the eight bishops. No response had been received at the time of publication.
NSS: 'exemption for the confessional must be fiercely resisted'
NSS president Keith Porteous Wood said: "These calls for an exemption for the confessional must – in the best interests of the child - be fiercely resisted. Were the confessional to be exempted, failure to report would become almost impossible to police. It would become almost impossible to refute false claims that knowledge of abuse was obtained in a confessional setting.
"Furthermore, it is vague what constitutes confession in the Anglican church which does not have booths. This ambiguity provides yet another opportunity for those with knowledge of abuse to have an excuse not to disclose it."
Image: Tama66, Pixabay
End abuse in religious settings
Religious privilege must not undermine safeguarding and justice. Join our campaign.