Can the Vatican reform pontifical not-so-secrecy?

Pontifical Not So Secrecy

Title: Can the Vatican reform pontifical not-so-secrecy?
Author: JD Flynn and Ed. Condon
Publisher: The Pillar
Date: 09FEB2022
“Pontifical secret” is one of those mysterious-sounding pieces of Church jargon that you won’t find anywhere else — the sort of phrase which cloaks the ordinary administrative business of the Church in an air of intrigue, and gives writers like Dan Brown the fodder to drum up fantastical tales about albino monks and hidden codices.
It’s one of many. The Church calls its privileged personnel files “secret archives,” and has a class of canonical crimes with the mysterious sounding title “reserved delicts.”

In strictly legal terms, the pontifical secret is a defined level of professional confidentiality in the Church’s administrative life, which binds curial officials who work on the composition of papal documents, some canonical processes, the appointment process of bishops, and numerous other projects undertaken in the Vatican.

But among ecclesiastical bureaucrats, there exists also such a corpus of urban legends and myths about what the pontifical secret actually is, and how it works, that the way it functionally operates in chanceries and dicasteries often differs markedly from place to place, and from the Church’s defined rules on the matter.

There are also the well-known pseudo-definitions that aim to capture how the pontifical secret actually works in ecclesiastical circles. One such definition says the pontifical secret means “you can only tell one person at a time.” Another says it means that “everyone knows but the pontiff.”

The pontifical secret is, in short, the sort of thing that even those responsible for applying and overseeing don’t always entirely understand, or apply in the manner defined in canon law.

Consider a papal effort to redefine the pontifical secret’s scope.

In a December 2019 text, the pontiff stated that “the pontifical secret does not apply to accusations, trials and decisions” related to the crimes delineated in Article 1 of Vos estis lux mundi. Those crimes include, inter alia, clerical sexual abuse, and obstruction or negligence in the handling of complaints related to the same crimes.

To date, several bishops in the United States remain the subject of investigations under the norms of Vos estis. Yet, despite the pope’s decree, Church authorities have often remain resistant to confirming even the reception of a Vos estiscomplaint, still less the opening of an investigation, and never the progress of a canonical process, unless they are compelled to do so by public outcry.

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