REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON ECCLESIASTICAL DISCIPLINE.Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty
We have not deemed it to be our duty to inquire into the manner in which private confession to a priest is conducted in the Church of England, as it does not appear to us to fall within the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service and to the ornaments and fittings of churches. It is not therefore for us as a Commission to express and opinion whether it is a good or a bad thing the confession, when heard in such cases as those provided for in the first Exhortation in the Holy Communion Service, should be heard in the open church. But the instances in which witnesses have testified, without contradiction, to notices put up, or given during service, of the time and place at which confessions would be heard, are sufficiently numerous to justify the inference that the practice of habitual confession has increased; and the evidence shows that it is pressed by some clergymen on their congregations as a duty, especially before Confirmation, and in some cases before receiving the Holy Communion. The matter therefore appears to fall sufficiently within our reference to make it undesirable that we should pass it over in silence. It would seem to be impossible to reconcile such systematic arrangement as have been referred to with the practically unanimous declaration of 100 Bishops of the Church set for in the Encyclical Letter issued by the Lambeth Conference of 1878, that " no minister of the Church is authorised to require from those who may resort to him to open their grief, a particular or detailed enumeration of all their sins, or to require private confession previous to receiving the Holy Communion, or to enjoin, or even encourage the practice of habitual confession, or the being subject to what has been termed the direction of a priest, is a condition of attaining to the highest spiritual life.” The subject was not dealt with in the subsequent Lambeth Conferences (1888 and 1897); but we have no reason to doubt that in substance the declaration would be approved by the Episcopate of to-day, although the words "or even encourage" might, as was suggested in 1878 and subsequently, be thought by some to need modification for the purpose of meeting individual cases.