No more secrets? Pope Francis drops obligation of silence over clerical sexual abuse of minors

Pope Francis has abolished the Catholic Church’s ‘pontifical secrecy’ in cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors in a major reform of canon law. The rule had been heavily criticized for protecting abusers and silencing victims.

The pontiff issued two new documents on Tuesday changing how the Church handles abuse cases involving minors and vulnerable persons. They ban the imposition of silence on people who report sexual abuses, as well as raising the cutoff age for porn to be considered child pornography.

The Pope’s predecessor Benedict XVI decreed in 2001 that information in abuse cases must be covered by ‘pontifical secrecy’ to protect the privacy of the victim and the reputation of the accused. However, the move – the Church’s highest form of secrecy – has been heavily criticized for decades by victims for covering up abuses and preventing prosecution.

A breach of ‘pontifical secrecy’ was considered a grave sin, and its removal from abuse cases was a key demand from Catholic leaders at the first summit on Church sexual abuse in February. In the new documents, the Pope decrees that while information in abuse cases must still be protected to ensure its secrecy and integrity, the ‘pontifical secret’ no longer applies to accusations of abuse or to trials of the accused.

The pontiff also raised the lower age for material “for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology” to be considered child pornography, increasing it from 14 or under to 18 or under.