Confidentiality and Confession

NB: this has been a topic addressed in recent House of Bishops deliberations, and further guidance will be forthcoming.

Traditionally, canon law constrains a priest from disclosing details of any crime or offence which is revealed in the course of formal confession. However, there is some doubt as to whether this absolute privilege is consistent with civil law and it may not stand up to challenge in a civil court.

Where a penitent ;s own behaviour is at issue, the priest should not only urge the person to report the matter him/herself to the police or local authority social care, but may judge it necessary to withhold absolution. The priest should seek advice and support from the Bishop, although the penitent ;s details would not be shared without their permission. The priest might also encourage the penitent to speak personally to the bishop.

Protecting All God ;s Children (House of Bishops), 4th edition (2010) provides fuller information about record-keeping and data protection (pp30-31) and confidentiality issues in a Church context, including medical consent (Gillick decision and Fraser guidelines) and spiritual direction (pp 33-36).