Pontifical Secret Abolition Ground-breaking
Author: Joshua J. McElwee
Publication: National Catholic Reporter
Several prominent canon lawyers are praising Pope Francis’ decision to abolish the practice of imposing strict confidentiality rules on the Vatican’s legal proceedings in cases involving clergy sexual abuse or misconduct.
The move, the lawyers say, will simplify communication between local church officials and civil authorities in individual abuse cases across the world.
Mercy Sr. Sharon Euart, a former executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society of America and a former associate general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the pontiff’s Dec. 17 decision shows “his deep commitment to addressing sexual abuse in the church.”
Nicholas Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer who served on the first iteration of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board, called the abolishing of the confidentiality rules, known as the pontifical secret, “truly ground-breaking.”
“It had historically been argued by the church’s critics that one purpose of the church’s own criminal proceeding against a sexually abusive priest was to cover the matter up,” he said.
Cafardi, who is also dean emeritus of Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, said the decision clears up questions some canon lawyers had about how to interpret a 1962 instruction from the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation outlining the use of pontifical secrecy in abuse cases.
“This new rescript resolves all doubt,” he said.
Francis’ decision to abolish the pontifical secret, which went into effect immediately, came in a brief instruction titled Sulla riservatezza delle cause (“On the Confidentiality of Legal Proceedings”).