The initial reaction to yesterday’s announcement by Pope Francis that he has introduced fundamental changes to the way the Catholic Church deals with cases of sexual abuse of minors must be welcomed.
The idea of ‘pontifical secrecy’ that once allowed some church officials believe they were not obliged to pass allegations to civil authorities, that Catholic authority took precedence, has been abolished. Though described as an “epochal decision”, the change will have no value unless it is universally observed. Its abolition was a key demand emanating from a Vatican summit on sexual abuse in February.
The Pope also forbade imposing an obligation of silence on those who report sexual abuse or allege they have been a victim — a particularly odious imposition frequently used in this country to protect paedophiles, very much to the emotional and psychological detriment of victims.
It is not unknown for this pope’s policies to be challenged and these changes may be, too. How that opposition, should it materialise, is dealt with will be defining.