Pope Francis has finally abolished outdated “secrecy rules” for sex abuse cases involving minors, which will allow for additional victim transparency and open the door for better communication with authorities.
The so-called “pontifical secrecy” rule previously blocked victims from getting updates on their cases, and prevented internal Church investigators from contacting certain civil authorities. The Church had claimed the rule helped protect the privacy of victims and reputations of those accused, although critics have said the latter was the true motive.
The gag rule was lifted on Tuesday in papal documents after first being suggested months ago.
[Church leaders] said the lifting of the rule in such cases would improve transparency and the ability of the police and other civil legal authorities to request information from the Church.
Information in abuse cases should still be treated with “security, integrity and confidentiality”, the Pope said in his announcement. He instructed Vatican officials to comply with civil laws and assist civil judicial authorities in investigating such cases.
The Pope also changed the Vatican’s definition of child pornography, increasing the age of the subject from 14 or under to 18 or under.
Apparently, before now, the Vatican didn’t think 15-year-olds could be victims of child porn…? Talk about burying the lede.
Still, the importance of removing the secrecy rule can’t really be overstated because it has for years been used to cripple victims’ abilities to find out information.
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“.
The Church has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy around the world. Pope Francis has faced serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions to the crisis, which has engulfed the Church in recent years.
If you’re cynical, you could say this is the least the Church could do. After all, becoming more transparent moving forward doesn’t resolve the myriad abuse cases from the past. It just means there’s one less excuse in the Church’s cover-up toolbox. But when it comes to religion, more transparency is always welcome. And if victims and investigators are applauding the change, then it ought to be welcomed. It’s a first step. But there are many more to go.
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