Pope Francis has lifted church rules governing secrecy from sex-abuse claims, cases and verdicts, the Vatican announced on Tuesday, while maintaining a minimum of confidentiality.
By eliminating all ambiguity on the scope of pontifical secret, the Pope has taken a significant step in the fight against sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, which he has made one of his priorities.
The instructions signed by the Pope are aimed at stipulating the degree of confidentiality with which information and complaints regarding sex abuse by members of the clergy must be treated, Juan Ignacio Arrieta, a member of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, is quoted as saying in a press release from the Vatican.
A former president of the Tribunal of the Vatican City State, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, was more direct, according to the press release, which reported him as saying Pope Francis was abolishing the pontifical secret for sex-abuse cases.
Pontifical secret, also known as papal secrecy, is a rule of confidentiality that protects sensitive information related to the governance of the universal church, according to a definition on the site of the Catholic Forum.
In substance, the reasons that had led the ecclesiastical legislator to include the most serious crimes, such as sexual abuse, among the matters subject to pontifical secret give way to values seen today as higher and worthy of special protection, such as, the primacy of the injured human person, Dalla Torre explained.
Even if he has lifted pontifical secrecy, the Pope still imposes a minimum of care, requiring all information on such cases “to be treated in such a way as to ensure its security, integrity and confidentiality (…) for the sake of protecting the good name, image and privacy of all persons involved.”
This does not mean censorship, according to the pope, who stresses that, “the person who files the report, the person who alleges to have been harmed and the witnesses shall not be bound by any obligation of silence with regard to matters involving the case.”