Fr John Hunwicke blogs : I believe that a very serious situation is arising for ecumenical dialogue, and especially for the now-pointless (but still-expensive) organisation called ARCIC. This dialogue was set up on the explicit premise that the old disagreements would be sorted out, and that neither ‘side’ would put in place new divergences. I wonder if this question of the Seal of the Confessional has ever been discussed at any level of ‘ecumenical dialogue’, nationally or internationally. Whether or not it has been, the Australian branch of Mr Welby’s little enterprise has legislated to go along with excluding sexual abuse from the Seal of the Confessional.
This is the story of ARCIC from beginning to end. Hunwicke’s First Law of Ecumenism is: ARCIC NEVER DISCUSSES ANYTHING RELEVANT. ARCIC started in a decade when the chickens of Lambeth 1932 were coming home to roost: questions of sexual morality were the issue of the day. These, in turn, bear upon the more basic question of the twentieth and twenty first centuries: whether Christians should resist, or follow, the Spirit and fashions of the Age. So what did negotiators do? They buried their noses in Transubstantiation.
A little later, the Evangelicals wanted ‘Justification’ dealt with (Newman had disposed of it in a couple of hilarious pages in chapter XVII of Loss and Gain … but no matter). At that time, in fact, the ‘New Look’ on S Paul had received broad adherence among Pauline scholars … Ed Sanders … Covenantal Nomism … but the ARCIC wonderboys ignored all that and situated their discussions entirely within the cobwebby categories of three centuries of Prod scholasticism.
Of course, the ARCIC understanding that neither side would introduce new divergences had to be bull-dozed out of the way in order to allow for the ‘ordination’ of women to sacerdotal ministries within most Anglican provinces. But today’s new divergence concerning the seal of the Confessional is, in some ways, even graver. You see, with the Anglicans going down this path, matters will become much more difficult for Catholic clergy who may be prosecuted for not delating paedophile penitents. Catholic clergy will have been hung out to dry by their Anglican ‘friends’.
The Anglicans will also have made it easier for Catholic priests to be sent to prison for contempt of court … because, of course, a Catholic priest in the witness box is unable even to say “I never heard that in my Confessional”, because one is not allowed to say anything about what transpires there. Or even to indicate it by a nod or a wink or a hint or an allusion.
Some moralists used to argue that one could deny having heard something in the confessional by assuming “I heard it while acting as a conduit to God; I did not hear it qua Father X”. But this could have the unfortunate effect of providing a court with evidence which could let a guilty defendant off the hook.
And it’s even nastier than that. Anglican clergy probably hear very few confessions compared with the numbers that Catholic clergy hear. So the Anglicans are abandoning their Catholic ‘partners in ecumenical dialogue’ to be persecuted by the agents of the Zeitgeist with regard to a subject which really matters very little to the overwhelming majority of Anglicans.
Well, so be it. It’s a shame the Anglicans are so willing to kick Catholics in the teeth, especially after all those hypocritical decades of wet nonsense about ‘Ecumenism’. Perhaps it’s just that they find it so terribly hard to get out of the habit of persecuting us. But there is no need to worry, is there: in a century or two, with tears of emotion in their eyes, their successors will formally apologise to our successors. That will make everything All Right, won’t it?
In the mean time, we should stop wasting time on dialogue, and tell the Anglicans what they can do with their ARCIC.