In Brief

Pope Francis lifts ‘pontifical secret’ rule in abuse cases

Sex abuse cases will no longer be held in secret as Church wrestles with the issue

Pope Francis has announced that the rule of “pontifical secrecy” will no longer apply to the sexual abuse of minors, in a move described as “epochal”.

As part of a bid to improve transparency, the Pope has called time on the days when the Church conducted sexual abuse cases in strict secrecy.

He said that information in abuse cases should still be treated with “security, integrity and confidentiality” but has told Vatican officials to comply with civil laws and assist civil judicial authorities in investigating such cases in the future.

The move comes after several church officials criticised the previous arrangement during the historic Vatican summit in February, which focused on combating clergy sexual abuse.

The BBC’s religion editor, Martin Bashir, said the reform is “the latest attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to address the scourge of clerical abuse that has manifested itself across continents and in a range of religious institutions”.

Charles Scicluna, the Archbishop of Malta and the Vatican's most experienced sex abuse investigator, described the Pope’s move as an “epochal decision that removes obstacles and impediments”.

Speaking to Vatican News, he added that “the question of transparency now is being implemented at the highest level”.

Mattias Katsch, a campaigner for abuse victims said the change is “overdue,” adding that “for a long time, representatives of victims/survivors from all over the world have demanded that papal secrecy be lifted in cases of sexual abuse of children by priests”.

In an accompanying move, the Pope has also expanded the Church's definition of child pornography, raising the age in which one is considered a child from 14 to 18. The new definition will come into effect in January 2020.

The Daily Mail notes that the announcement came on Francis' 83rd birthday, “as he struggles to respond to the global explosion of the abuse scandal, his own missteps in dealing with the issue, and demands for greater transparency and accountability from victims, law enforcement and ordinary Catholics alike”.

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