Pope Francis lifted the pontifical secret, making testimony from the proceedings of clerical trials involving abuse available to legal authorities.
What is the pontifical secret, also known as papal secrecy? According to the instruction Secreta continere issued by the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1974, pontifical secrecy is a code of confidentiality for specific situations that require more than ordinary secrecy.
“But some matters of major importance require a particular secrecy, called ‘pontifical secrecy’, and must be observed as a grave obligation.”
In a papal instruction published December 17th entitled “Rescriptum of the Holy Father Francis to promulgate the Instruction on the confidentiality of legal proceedings,” Pope Francis abolished the pontifical secret and instead brought back an ordinary “‘level’ of confidentiality, dutifully required to protect the good reputation of the people involved.”
The new norms apply to the proceedings of cases involving “sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable person by a cleric or consecrated person” and “possession, distribution, or acquisition of pornography by a cleric.” The new norms also make the possession and dissemination of pornographic images of children under the age of 18 (previously 14) fall under the category of delicta graviora – the most grave of delicts. Witnesses, alleged victims, and who files the report are also no longer bound to obligations of silence.
However, the norms still require the protection of the “security, integrity and confidentiality” of proceedings “for the sake of protecting the good name, image and privacy of all persons involved.”
Case proceedings can now be made available to legal authorities, and the new level of 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.”