Pontifical Secret Marie Collins
Title: Removal of ‘pontifical secret’ in clerical sex abuse trials a step forward for justice
Author: Marie Collins
Publication: The Irish Times
On the December 17th last the Vatican announced that the “pontifical secret” would no longer be applied to canon law trials involving clerical sexual offences. Many people were unaware of this “secret” but survivors of abuse have campaigned for its removal for many years.
What is the “pontifical secret” and what change should its removal bring in the handling of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church?
While pontifical secrecy goes back centuries it was named and defined clearly in 1974 when Pope Paul VI issued a canonical instruction Secreta Continere – De Secreto Pontifico.
We have seen in Ireland that when the Murphy commission requested files from the Vatican to assist in their work these were not forthcoming
It stated that those bound by the pontifical secret could “in no way, under any pretext, whether of greater good, or of very urgent or very grave reason” break the secret. Only the pope or someone directed by him can dispense from the pontifical secret. The punishment for breaking the secret can be very severe, going as far as excommunication.
The pontifical secret was intended originally to cover sensitive governance information in the church. Members of the curia and those appointed to the post of nuncio take the oath at the beginning of their service.
Among other things, the secret covers the process of choosing new bishops, financial records, draft laws, serious penal processes undertaken by the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith and, until now, matters involving clerical sexual abuse.