Guidelines on Private Confession where child abuse is disclosed

The following guidelines on Private Confession where child abuse is disclosed have been adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia.

PROTOCOL 11 PRIVATE CONFESSION

  1. As bishops of the Australian Church we recognise that individual, auricular confession may have a valuable place in bringing relief of conscience to penitents troubled by weighty matters, where the penitent recognises the need for both forgiveness and amendment of life.
  2. Where a person under the age of 18 years seeks to make a confession:
    a. the minister proposing to hear the confession must do so in an open space and with a clear line of sight to another adult; but
    b. where no other adult is available, the confession must be deferred until another adult is present.
  3. Recognising that the sexual abuse of a minor may be the content of such individual confession, we affirm our shared conviction that private confession should not be provided in a way that gives false comfort to the perpetrators of abuse.
  4. Genuine contrition and a commitment to amendment of life are essential elements of an individual act of reconciliation, and the minister proclaiming God’s forgiveness should make this clear in responding to the penitent. This may involve the minister’s helping the penitent to acknowledge the deep and complex causes and consequences of sexual abuse of a minor, while taking care not to enter into an extensive counselling relationship.
  5. Where a person seeking to make a confession refuses to express contrition, as would be evidenced by the matter having been reported to the appropriate authorities, we affirm that it is not appropriate for the minister hearing the confession to offer an assurance of God’s forgiveness and pardon at this time.
  6. In such instances the minister may say, for example, the following. I am unable to offer the assurance of God’s forgiveness until your contrition is shown by your reporting this abuse to the appropriate authorities. It is best if you do this and I accompany you. If you are unwilling to report your behaviour, I will do so.
    The minister should be certain that the abuse has been reported to the appropriate authorities before giving the assurance of God’s forgiveness and pardon.
  7. We understand that some ministers may fear that this is an unacceptable breach of the privacy (‘seal’) of the confessional. These ministers should consider carefully the requirements of the relevant State or Commonwealth law operative in their diocese, and the ongoing danger to the survivor and other potential survivors of the self-disclosed abuser, as well as the damage to the abuser of offering false comfort where there is a lack of genuine contrition.
  8. As bishops we commit ourselves to support clergy who are dealing with these complex pastoral circumstances.

Adopted 2006
Amended 2017
Amended 2018

This page updated 13 July 2020