The Pope has lifted the rule of ‘pontifical secrecy’ on any cases involving the sexual abuse of minors to encourage transparency in such cases.
The Catholic church hitherto treated cases of sexual abuse in secrecy in line with the ‘pontifical secrecy’ rule but new papal documents on Tuesday lifted restrictions on those who report abuse or say they have been victims.
Church leaders had earlier called for the abolition of the rule in a February Vatican summit. They said the lifting of the rule will enable police and security authorities to carry out intensive investigations of such cases as they will be able to enquire information from the church.
Information in abuse cases should still be treated with “security, integrity and confidentiality”, the Pope said in his announcement as BBC reported.
The Pope also changed the definition of child pornography increasing the minimum age from 14 to 18.
According to the BBC report Charles Scicluna, the Archbishop of Malta and the Vatican’s most experienced sex abuse investigator, called the move an “epochal decision that removes obstacles and impediments”, telling Vatican news that “the question of transparency now is being implemented at the highest level”.
Pontifical Secrecy was introduced in the church to protect sensitive information such as communications between the Vatican and papal embassies – in a similar fashion to the secrecy applied to diplomatic cables. It’s been used over the years to protect the identities of individuals involved in cases of sexual abuse.
Critics claim the rule has been used as a hideout by church officials to avoid cooperating with security officials.
“Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret … to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorised to share information with either state authorities or the victims,” Archbishop Scicluna said. “Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse.”
Under the new rule or instruction people connected with cases of child sexual abuse or child pornography are now able to share information with the police and are relieved of any oath of silence.
It’s the Pope’s 83rd birthday and to celebrate it he has responded to a longstanding complaint from survivors by announcing that any testimony gathered by the Church in relation to cases of sexual violence, the abuse of minors and child pornography will now be made available to state authorities.
This is a bold attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to scourge the clerical abuse that has manifested itself across continents and in a range of religious institutions.