Index – Seal of the Confessional

On 11 October 2022, the House of Bishops announced that it had commissioned further work on the Seal of the Confessional. Below are links to relevant L&RUK posts and other material from 2014 to present*.

Church of England

CofE to axe seal of confessional? Comment on The Mail on Sunday and developments in the CofE. (22 September 2014).

Seal of confessional: its future in the CofE. At its meeting on 30 September 2014, the Archbishops’ Council considered the proposed revision of the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy, and what advice to offer to the Convocations on its treatment of the ministry of absolution (i.e. confession) for which provision is made in Canon B 29, GS Misc 1085: the Annex to this paper sets out the background to the revision process. (28 October 2014).

IICSA: Some legal views – Evidence from “a venerable ecclesiastical lawyer”. IICSA Evidence session, Dr Bursell, (15 March 2018).

Confession & safeguarding: Canterbury diocese guidelines, Statement from Diocese of Canterbury. This includes advice that “any priest hearing a confession, regularly or otherwise, must say prior to hearing that confession the following statement of confidentiality and safeguarding: If you touch on any matter in your confession that raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding of another person or yourself, I am duty bound to pass that information on to the relevant agencies, which means that I am unable to keep such information confidential”. (30 May 2018).

Peter Ball – legislation, then and now (I), (8 August 2018).

Peter Ball – legislation, then and now (II), Incudes evidence from Dr Bursell and others. (14 August 2018).

Peter Ball – legislation, then and now (III). Closing statements in Inquiry. (21 August 2018).

Forward in Faith: The Seal of the Confessional. The Forward in Faith National Assembly unanimously called on the House of Bishops to re-affirm the Seal of the Confessional as “an essential principle of the doctrine of the Universal Church, as received by the Church of England”; it also called on priests of The Society to reassure the faithful that they will maintain absolute confidentiality with regard to what is confessed in sacramental confession. (23 November 2018).

IICSA: Some more legal views – Comments on the seal of the confessional. On 13 March 2018, the IICSA inquiry on the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse within the Anglican Church received oral evidence from the Revd Canon Dr Rupert Bursell QC. On 4 July 2019, the Inquiry heard further evidence from Dr Bursell: in addition to the transcript, there were three evidence documents from Dr Bursell: ACE025279-1, (8 November 2017); ACE027523, (13 May 2019); and ACE027554, (23 May 2019). (6 July 2019).

Child sexual abuse, safeguarding failures and mandatory reporting. Includes summary of the current law and the confessional, and the evidence of the Revd Canon Rupert Bursell to the IICSA proceedings on 13 March, commenting on the seal of the confessional (14 September 2018).

CofE Report on Confession. Working party report into the Ministry of Confession. (8 May 2019).

Ministry of Confession. On 8 May 2019, the Church of England issued a Press Release, a Report of the Seal of the Confessional Working Party and an Interim Statement on The Seal of the Confessional. The Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops of the Church of England commissioned a Working Party on the Seal of the Confessional which first met in 2015 and completed its report in 2017. However, the Working Party could not reach a consensus as to whether this should change, although it was unanimous in recommendations “a number of key areas”: improvements to training on the ministry of confession in relation to safeguarding issues; and the appointment of an adviser on the ministry of reconciliation in each diocese who can be a point of reference for training, supervision and advice. (20 May 2019).

Clergy Discipline Commission Annual Report 2018 – Analysis, Considerationo of items of specific interest within the Report; this provides an interesting segue to our recent post Different perspectives of the CDM in which we summarized a number of different views of the Clergy Discipline Measure and its application.(17 July 2019).

The Church of England and the seal of the confessional At the meeting of the House of Bishops on Thursday 14 July, the Bishop of Stepney,  the Rt Revd Joanne Grenfell, informed the House of the decision to commission further work regarding best practice in the hearing of oral confession within the Sacramental Ministry of Confession and Absolution, ahead of the final report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The House was invited to comment on the working group and its draft terms of reference. The final IICSA report is expected “later in 2022”. (17 July 2022).

The seal of the confessional and the Church of England. On 11 October 2022, the House of Bishops announced that it had commissioned further work on the Seal of the Confessional, building on the report and interim statement from the previous working party published in 2018/2019 and originally set up in 2014. (12 October 2022).

Final IICSA Report, IICSA. (20 October 2022).

Initial Response, A statement from the Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Jonathan Gibbs. (20 October 2022).

IICSA, sacramental confession and mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. (20 October 2022).

Joint Response to Recommendations of the IICSA Report, the National Safeguarding Steering Group, the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council (12 January 2023).

Church of England & IICSA Final Report, Following the publication and the initial response to the Final Report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in October 2022, the National Safeguarding Steering Group, the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council have published a joint response to recommendations in relation to the safeguarding work of the Church of England. (12 January 2023).

The future of safeguarding in the Church of England, The Future of Church Safeguarding Programme was set up to recommend a model for fully independent safeguarding within the Church of England. The Programme operates entirely independently from the Church and is led by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, (16 August 2023).

“Due regard” and statutory guidance (I), This post considers guidance produced under the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007. Part II will address the authority of guidance; the application of guidance and sanctions; and Clergy Discipline and Safeguarding. (15 August 2023).

“Due regard” and statutory guidance (II), (t.b.a.).

Seal of confession. The Society” (formerly The Society of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda) has published its response to the Government’s consultation on mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. (20 August 2023).

Other churches in UK

Articles 8 & 9 and the “seal of the confessional”: are communications between clergy and penitents privileged? R v Leighton [2013] EW Misc (CrownC) unreported – a Jehovah’s Witness “ministerial servant”, one Gordon Leighton, has been convicted at Newcastle Crown Court on two charges of indecency with a child and six of indecent assault.  (23 July 2013).

Other churches

Oz Anglicans reject seal of confessional. The 2 July decision of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia to amend the Church’s 1989 canon on confession. (9 July 2014).

Cardinal reasserts absolute confidentiality of confessional. Roman Catholic Apostolic Penitentiary Conference, Vatican, 12-13 November 2014, on “The Confessional Seal and Pastoral Privacy”. (14 November 2014).

Articles 8 & 9 and the “seal of the confessional” again. US case Mayeux v Charlet LA App, July 29, 2016. The appeals court upheld the trial court. Drake and Chutz JJ denied the application for a supervisory writ without giving reasons: dissenting, however, Holdridge J argued that, because the seal of the confessional prohibits a priest from revealing anything learned during confession on pain of excommunication latae sententiae. (6 August 2016).

Seal of the confessional again. A Louisiana trial court had held that a plaintiff suing a priest and the Roman Catholic Church could legitimately testify that in 2008 she had told the priest in confession that she was being abused by a parishioner. The Church and the priest appealed on grounds of confidentiality and in Mayeux v Charlet LA App, July 29, 2016, in a 2-1 decision, the Appeals Court upheld the trial court. (6 November 2016).

Australian Royal Commission recommends lifting seal of confessional. Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse final recommendations on Criminal Justice. It proposes that clergy should no longer be permitted to refuse to disclose offending on the grounds that they came by the information in the course of a confession. (14 August 2017).

Belgium and the seal of the confessional, The Bruges Criminal Court sentenced the chaplain of a care home in Bruges, to a one-month suspended prison sentence and a symbolic one euro in damages to the widow of Tony Vantomme, for culpable negligence. The Court recognized that the seal of the confessional was an aspect of professional secrecy; however, it justified its judgment on the grounds that professional confidentiality did not relieve one of the duty to provide assistance to a person in need. (21 December 2018).

Books and Commentaries

The Seal of the Confessional in the Church of England: Historical, Legal and Liturgical Perspectives“, Dr Colin Podmore. A lecture for the Bishop of Richborough’s Initial Ministerial Education Session, The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 14 November 2016.

A new book: Religious Confession and Evidential Privilege in the 21st Century – edited by Mark Hill QC and A Keith Thompson. (19 December 2021).

Christopher Grout,The Seal of the Confessional and the Criminal Law of England and Wales” Ecclesiastical Law Journal [2022] Vol 22(2) 138,

* Last updated, 17January 2023 at 08:43.  

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Index – Seal of the Confessional" in Law & Religion UK, 15 October 2022,



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