Pope Francis Abolishes ‘Pontifical Secret’ for Sex Abuse Cases

In this Aug. 22, 2018 file photo, Pope Francis is caught in pensive mood during his weekly general audience at the Vatican. Francis' papacy has been thrown into crisis by accusations that he covered-up sexual misconduct by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File

ROME — Pope Francis has eliminated the rule of pontifical secrecy for dealings of the Roman Curia in cases involving the sexual abuse of minors.

Whereas according to Church law members of the Vatican Curia are obliged to a code of confidentiality concerning information that they come to know through their official work, this code will no longer apply in specific instances concerning abuse, according to changes established by the Vatican Tuesday.

According to the archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna, the update represents “an epochal decision,” because “the question of transparency now is being implemented at the highest level.”

Documents in a penal trial will not become public, Scicluna noted, but they will be available for authorities or interested parties to promote the sharing of information and documentation.

The sort of actions no longer covered by the pontifical secret include “cases of violence and sexual acts committed under threat or abuse of authority; cases of the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons; cases of child pornography; cases regarding the lack of reporting and the cover-up of the abusers on the part of bishops and superiors general of religious institutes,” Vatican News reported.

Although the Church had already mandated reporting charges of sex abuse to civil authorities where required by law, the new regulations further prohibit imposing an obligation of silence on those who report sex abuse or claim to have been a victim.

The definition of child pornography has also been changed from images of children under the age of 14 to those under the age of 18, moving away from a matter of the sexual maturity of the victims to their legal status as minors.

The lifting of the pontifical secret does not affect the obligation of keeping the seal of confession for information obtained by priests through the sacrament of penance.

The two documents issued Tuesday are known as rescriptums, meaning that the pope has used his authority to tweak or “rewrite” articles of Canon Law or other magisterial texts.

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