The Change to the ‘Pontifical Secret’ Does Less Than It Appears to Do

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Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 1, 2019. Credit: Vatican Media

By Christopher Altieri, Catholic Herald,  18 December, 2019

The change is significant, but we shouldn’t forget that it only downgrades the level of secrecy

By now, readers will have heard that Pope Francis has issued a rescript lifting the so-called “pontifical secret” under which the Church has until now conducted investigations and canonical trials related to sexual abuse and coverup, sexual violence, and other similarly grave crimes against minors and vulnerable adults. The pontifical secret remains in force over other matters, but is no longer the default level of secrecy for sex crimes against minors and related offences.

It was one of three changes to Church law the pope made on Tuesday. Another specifies the acquisition or possession of pornographic materials that exploit subjects under the age of 18 as a grave criminal offence for clerics of any rank. That change may have been longer in coming than observers and advocates for it would have liked, but it is the fulfilment of a promise. A third introduces the possibility for qualified lay persons to act as attorneys in canonical proceedings before the CDF tribunal, in which grave criminal charges are being tried.

Of the three changes, the removal of pontifical secret from sex crime cases involving minors is bound to generate the most discussion.

In an editorial for the Holy See’s official Vatican News outlet, editorial director Andrea Tornielli hailed the change as “a sign of openness, transparency, and the willingness to collaborate with the civil authorities.” Tornielli said, “It is not too much to define it as ‘historic’.”  ….

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