Victims welcome abolition of Vatican sex abuse secrecy rules

Clerical abuse victims have welcomed the decision by Pope Francis to abolish the Vatican’s strict secrecy rules covering sex abuse proceedings.

Victims welcome abolition of Vatican sex abuse secrecy rules

Clerical abuse victims have welcomed the decision by Pope Francis to abolish the Vatican’s strict secrecy rules covering sex abuse proceedings.

The changes are contained in the latest Vatican rescriptums, issued by the Pope to rewrite specific articles of canon law or previously issued papal documents.

He also raised to 18 from 14 the age pictures of minors can be considered child pornography. While the changes have been welcomed by survivors of abuse, they say they are long overdue. Survivor Marie Collins said the lifting of the secrecy rule is “good to see” because it increases the chances of survivors accessing their Vatican files.

One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis welcomed the development but added: “We feel it is long overdue, 50 years overdue.”

Maeve Lewis
Maeve Lewis

On raising the age of a minor to 18, she added: “Who in their right mind would have considered a 15- or 16-year-old to be an adult? This change is also welcome.”

Andrew Madden, author of Altar Boy: A Story Of Life After Abuse, said:

“Will this mean that the Church may now be asked to revisit requests for files it refused to provide, for example, to the Murphy Commission? It will be interesting to see if the announcement translates into more co-operation and transparency from the Vatican. I doubt it very much but let’s not pre-judge them.”

The lifting of “pontifical secrecy” in sex abuse investigations was a key demand by abuse survivors and some senior clerics.

Church leaders, including Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and the Vatican’s most experienced sex-abuse investigator, had called for it to be lifted at a summit on sexual abuse held at the Vatican in February. They argued that secrecy in cases of sexual abuse of minors was outdated and some Church officials were hiding behind it instead of co-operating with authorities.

Archbishop Scicluna said the move opens ways to communicate with victims and co-operate with the State.

“Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret to say that they could not share information with state authorities or victims,” he told Vatican Radio.

Investigators for the Murphy Commission of Investigation, which reported in 2009 on its probe into sex abuse at the Archdiocese of Dublin, were denied access to Vatican files because of pontifical secrecy.

In June 2015, it emerged that Cardinal Sean Brady had attended meetings where two teenage victims of paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth were sworn to secrecy in 1975. Abuse survivor Marie Collins had recommended that the secrecy rule be removed when she sat on the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors before she resigned in 2017.

She told yesterday’s RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime: “Natural justice was being refused.”

Colm O’Gorman, founder and former director of One in Four, said: “It is a very late acknowledgment Church law had applied the pontifical secret to child abuse cases for many, many cases.

Colm O'Gorman
Colm O'Gorman

“For years it has imposed the highest level of secrecy around cases involving sexual crimes against children by clergy. It’s a late-in-the-day reversal of what had been a long-standing lie on the part of the Vatican and the fact that they have removed it is welcome.

“The lifting of pontifical secrecy” is welcome but we need to see if mandatory rules on reporting of abuse disclosures being imposed across the Catholic church.”

Although there was still some confusion last night about whether or not the Pope was also lifting the confessional seal, it does not matter, said Ms Lewis.

“To quote the 2002 Minister of Justice, Michael McDowell, Church law carries about as much weight as the rules of the local golf club. The law of the State is quite clear,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter where the priest hears a disclosure [of abuse], they are obliged to notify the child-protection offices.”

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