In a historic move, Pope Francis issued a special declaration known as a "rescriptum," or rescript, to pontifical secrecy in the church. The code of secrecy has long been criticized for being used to silence survivors of sexual abuse, protect pedophiles, and stop investigations from law enforcement.
Now, Pope Francis is abolishing this rule and making it so that the Catholic Church can now give any documents related to sexual abuse cases in the church to authorities.
While this is an established practice for the church in many countries, this move from the Vatican makes the practice universal. The change will now allow the Catholic Church to hand over documents related to sexual abuse cases to civil authorities without excuse.
“Office confidentiality shall not prevent the fulfillment of the obligations laid down in all places by civil laws, including any reporting obligations, and the execution of enforceable requests of civil judicial authorities,” the Pope's decree states.
But, pontifical secrecy is not inherently related to keeping forms of abuse secret — the code has bound church officials to confidentiality in general for years. The Pope’s new decree establishes that doesn’t apply to evidence and legal proceedings that have anything to do with clerical sex abuse or any actions to cover it up.
It can’t be overstated that this is a sweeping change to how the Catholic Church has dealt with the sexual abuse of young kids and minors. Many have come forward about their own experiences of abuse from clergy members, including Broadway star Andrew Rannells.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who also functions as the Vatican's sex abuse investigator, explained that some used the secrecy rules “to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorized to share information with either state authorities or the victims.”
After a slew of abuse scandals in the church in America, Latin America, Europe and Australia, the Pope called an international summit of bishops together in February to meet at the Vatican and find solutions. Stemming from the conference, there have been a number of progressive changes from the church. This includes the Pope’s enactment of a new rule that calls for thoroughly investigating bishops over sexual abuse or attempted coverup of abuse, and that requires local dioceses to immediately report allegations to the Vatican, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Ultimately, this change is a huge win for activists who have long campaigned against sexual abuse in the church and have fought for solutions. The progress coming out of the Catholic Church may be slow but in this case, it’s absolutely better late than never.