Church minister
© Lynne Cameron /PA
Church of England canon law states that information divulged during confession must be kept secret.
Christians have been told not to confess sex abuse secrets to Church of England clergy because they will tell the police.

Guidance from the diocese of Canterbury says clergy must tell penitents that if their confession "raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding", the priest will be "duty bound" to tell the "relevant agencies".

Church of England canon law states that information divulged during confession must be kept secret.

The issue was raised during the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse earlier this year, amid concerns that evidence of abuse could be kept from the authorities.

The national church is currently considering the issue after a review was launched in 2014, and a working group is due to discuss in December.

Julian Hills, Diocesan Secretary, said the guidance was formulated after a case where someone told a member of the clergy about abuse during the confessional.

A penitent "shared with a priest information about ongoing abuse. In this case, the legal and moral position of the priest was called into question," he said.

"It was therefore felt by the Diocesan Safeguarding Management Group that clergy must have clear guidance on how to manage situations where the seal of confession may be brought into conflict with their safeguarding responsibilities."
It is unclear whether a criminal court would favour the responsibility to protect someone from abuse or the requirement of a priest to maintain confidentiality

- Julian Hills, Diocesan Secretary
Mr Hills said the situation could force a priest to "choose between their responsibility to protect someone from harm and the usual requirement of confidentiality".

He insisted that the arrangement did not "abolish the seal of the confessional" but was "intended to advise the penitent not to divulge in confession something which would legally compromise the position of the priest".

"The guidance was drafted in early 2015, after seeking independent legal advice and in consultation with the then Acting Head of Delivery for the National Safeguarding Team," he added.