Pope Francis has made changes to the way the Roman Catholic Church deals with cases of sexual abuses of minors, by abolishing the rule of “pontifical secrecy”.
New papal documents lift the obligation of silence on those who report abuse or say they have been victims.
Church leaders called for the rule’s abolition at a February Vatican summit.
Information in abuse cases should still be treated with “security, integrity and confidentiality”, the Pope said.
He also instructed Vatican officials to comply with civil laws, while maintaining confidentiality, and assist the civil judicial authorities in investigating such cases.
The Pope has also changed the Vatican’s definition of child pornography, increasing the age of the subject from 14 or under to 18 or under.
Pontifical secrecy was a rule of confidentiality which protected sensitive information regarding the governance of the Church, similar to the “classified” or “confidential” status used in companies or civil governments, the Catholic news agency says.
On his 83rd birthday, Pope Francis has responded to a long-standing complaint from survivors by announcing that any testimony gathered by the Church in relation to cases of sexual violence, the abuse of minors and child pornography will now be made available to state authorities.
In the past, the Church has been accused of using secrecy laws as a justification for not reporting cases of abuse. The consequence of breaching the pontifical secret was excommunication from the Church, so there was little incentive to be open to state authorities. That prohibition has now been abolished.
It is the latest attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to address the scourge of clerical abuse that has manifested itself across continents and in a range of religious institutions.
The Pope’s troubleshooter on sexual abuse, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, has added to Tuesday’s announcement saying that if it receives a specific request from a state authority, then the Church will now co-operate.