Scicluna Abolition Pontifical Secret
Title: Archbishop Charles Scicluna hails abolition of pontifical secret in clerical sex crimes
Author: Matthew Vella
Publication: Malta Today
Malta’s archbishop Charles Scicluna has hailed the abolition of the pontifical secret in cases of sexual violence and clerical abuse of minors, as an important step in working for justice for victims.
Scicluna, whom Pope Francis appointed as the Holy See’s prosecutor on clerical sex abuse cases, said the abolition will mean certain jurisdictions cannot be excused from not collaborating with authorities on such cases.
The abolition of the pontifical secret applies on the reporting, trials and decisions on cases of violence and sexual acts committed under threat or abuse of authority, sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, cases of child pornography, as well as the lack of reporting and the cover-up of the abusers on the part of bishops and superiors general of religious institutes.
“Certain jurisdiction would have easily quoted the pontifical secret because that was the state of the law, in order to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorised to share information with either state authorities or the victim,” Scicluna told Vatican News.
“Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse.
“However, the law goes further… information is of the essence if we really want to work for justice. And so, the freedom of information to statutory authorities and to victims is something that is being facilitated by this new law.”
The Church previously shrouded sexual abuse cases in secrecy, in what it said was an effort to protect the privacy of victims and reputations of the accused. In 2001, St John Paul II ordered that clerical abuse cases be placed under pontifical secrecy in a bid to protect the privacy of those involved.
Francis’s decision reversed that move in a bid to help assure transparency in the process and utmost cooperation with civil authorities.
The new instruction specifies that such information be “treated in such a way as to ensure its security, integrity and confidentiality” established by the Code of Canon Law to protect the “good name, image and privacy” of those involved.
But this confidentiality does “not prevent the fulfilment of the obligations laid down in all places by civil laws” including the possible obligation to report, and “the execution of enforceable requests of civil judicial authorities”.
In addition, those reporting the crime, the victims and witnesses “shall not be bound by any obligation of silence” regarding the facts.
While the documents in a church penal trial are not public domain, they are available for authorities, or people who are interested parties, and authorities who have a statutory jurisdiction over the matter, Scicluna said.
“So I think that when it comes, for example, to information that the Holy See has asked to share, one has to follow the international rules: that is, that there has to be a specific request, and that all the formalities of international law are to be followed. But otherwise, on the local level, although they are not public domain, communication with statutory authorities sharing of information and documentation is facilitated.”