No secret that ‘pontifical secrecy’ is taking a beating at pope’s summit

Pontifical Secret Transparency Scicluna

Title: No secret that ‘pontifical secrecy’ is taking a beating at pope’s summit

Author: John L. Allen Jr.

Publisher: Crux

Date: 23Feb2019

ROME – One hallmark of Pope Francis’s style is that during big moments, he prefers to have his friends and allies in the spotlight. That’s certainly the case during his high-stakes summit on the clerical abuse scandals this week, as the prelates given choice speaking slots would be on any short list of Francis’s biggest supporters.

As a result, it’s worth paying attention to what these prelates say, because if it doesn’t directly reflect the pope’s personal thinking, it’s at least a point of view he’ll be inclined to take seriously.

In that spirit, here’s one clear take-away: The concept of “pontifical secrecy,” if not quite on life support, has certainly seen better days.

Over the last three days, two prominent speakers took direct swipes at pontifical secrecy, both heavy-hitters in Francis’s papacy: Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, a member of the pope’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, essentially the pope’s go-to man in the United States.

Speaking on Friday, Cupich went first. Though his reference was brief, it was directly on point:“The reporting of an offense should not be impeded by the official secret or confidentiality rules.”

By “reporting,” of course, Cupich meant informing police and civil prosecutors of child abuse allegations against Church personnel. Over the years, officials often cited obligations to secrecy imposed under Church law as a reason for not making those reports – so, in context, Cupich was basically saying that’s bunk.

Next up was Marx, who, in essence, argued that pontifical secrecy needs to have its wings clipped – from a blanket requirement of keeping virtually everything confidential to a more 21st century concept of “data protection,” meaning shielding personal details from hackers with malicious intent, not withholding information from people or agencies with a legitimate right to know.

“We need to consider the definition and limits of pontifical secrecy,” Marx said. “In light of changing communications patterns in the age of social media, when each and every one of us can establish instant communication, we need to redefine confidentiality and secrecy and distinguish them from data protection.”

If the Church doesn’t do so, Marx warned, “we’ll either squander the chance to maintain some level of self-determination or expose ourselves to the suspicion of covering up.”

At a news conference Saturday, the same point was made by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, formerly the Vatican’s top prosecutor for sex abuse crimes and a leading reformer.

“There’s a need for transparency, and a definitive movement toward the culture of disclosure,” said Scicluna.

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