- The Pope states that "no bond of silence" may be imposed on victims and witnesses.
- “This is an epochal decision,” Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, told the Vatican Radio.
- As per the new arrangement, the pontifical secrecy ceases to fix staff in offices of the Roman Curia to confidentiality on sex abuse offenses.
Pope Francis has, with immediate effect, abolished the pontifical secrecy in cases of sexual violence, child abuse, and child pornography. The decision was made on the 4th of this month and announced this Tuesday. Thanks to the declaration by the Pope, complaints, testimonies, and procedural documents on such cases, kept in the archives and departments of the Holy See and the dioceses, may be provided to magistrates of the respective countries, upon request, per their respective legal systems.
The new statement, according to the Vatican, says that “information must be treated in a manner that ensures security, integrity and confidentiality” as set out in the Code of Canon Law to protect the “good name, image, and privacy” of the people involved. The Pope states that “no bond of silence” may be imposed on victims and witnesses.
The pontifical secrecy was highly criticized from some quarters owing to the fact that it gave leeway to some Church officials to evade co-operation with the police in cases of abuse involving the church. “This is an epochal decision,” Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, told the Vatican Radio. “Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret . . . to say that they could not and that they were not authorized 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.”
As per the new arrangement, the pontifical secrecy ceases to fix staff in offices of the Roman Curia to confidentiality on sex abuse offenses. The decision is accompanied by another decree amending the norm on the crime of child pornography— in the category of “delta graviora,” the most serious crimes in canon law— the possession and dissemination of pornographic images, now referring to under 18, instead of 14, as it was before.
In essence, it is a question of putting into practice the desire for openness and transparency expressed at the February world meeting in the Vatican. On that occasion, Pope Francis met with the presidents of all episcopal conferences to address the issue of abuse. One of the conclusions of the meeting was precisely the willingness to collaborate with the civil authorities. The changes do not, however, mean that all case documentation goes into the public domain, but collaboration with the State and other entities that now have a right of access to these documents is facilitated.
The second rewriting, signed by Cardinal Parolin and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Holy See), Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, presents modifications to three articles of the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (from 2001, modified in 2010 in the pontificate). In addition to changing the age to the definition of child pornography, Pope Francis states that in the cases concerning these most serious crimes, the role of “lawyer and prosecutor” can also be performed by lay faithful with a doctorate in canon law, and not just by priests.