Pontifical Secrecy Rule Lifted in Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

Posted on: October 26, 2020 Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

Pontifical Secrecy Rule Clergy Sexual AbuseIn December of 2019 the Vatican issued an instruction called On the Confidentiality of Legal Proceedings which essentially removed the pontifical secrecy rule related to clergy sexual abuse or misconduct cases. The directive by the Vatican should help ease communication between church officials and civil authorities around the globe regarding abuse cases.

What is the Pontifical Secret or Papal Secrecy?

This is the rule that governs confidentially and protection of sensitive information regarding the governance of the universal church. Think along the lines of an attorney-client privilege or “classified” documents in a governmental sense.

This ‘rule’ has long been the complaint of survivors and lawyers who say it’s the way the Catholic church was able to hide and cover up priest molestations and allow pedophiles priests to continue preying on young victims.

Does a priest have to report sexual abuse?

In the United States, dioceses/eparchies are supposed to report alleged sexual abuse to the local authorities and cooperate in the investigation per the Charter for the Protection of Children & Young People. This charter was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee for Sexual Abuse of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Article 4 of the document reads:

Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities with due regard for the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. Diocesan/eparchial personnel are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.

Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor.

In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.

The lifting of the Pontifical Secret will likely not result in major changes in the U.S. since the policy of reporting has been in place since 2002. However, the new instructions from Pope Francis are, at least, a clear direction for the Catholic church as a whole. It provides more universal freedom for clergy to ‘declassify’ information regarding sexual abuse cases without specific consent from the Vatican or concerns about breaking any secrecy rule.

Does the Pontifical Secrecy Rule Still Exist?

The instructions by Pope Frances are specific to clergy sexual abuse or misconduct. There are still areas in which information remains confidential.

Some areas include:

  • Secrecy of Confession – What is said in a confessional remains confidential. In the U.S., a 2019 California bill proposing ending priestly confidentiality regarding the abuse of minors was ultimately withdrawn after religious advocacy groups pushed back.
  • Papal conclaves
  • Appointment of bishops and cardinals
  • Drafts of treaties to be made with states
  • Financial details of the Holy See
  • Modern accusations of heresy

The entire article can be viewed here.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

If you or a loved one were a victim of sexual abuse or misconduct at hands of a catholic priest or other clergy member, contact our firm today or learn more by visiting our Clergy sexual abuse attorney page. Our firm reviews cases of sexual abuse nationwide and can help you understand your legal options. Your time to file sexual abuse claim is limited. Call us today at 1-800-941-7209 for a FREE and PRIVATE consultation.