POPE ABOLISHES PONTIFICAL SECRET FOR CASES OF SEXUAL ABUSE
In an historical and unprecedented move, the Vatican announced today that Pope Francis has abolished the pontifical secret for cases of sexual abuse.
Following, in their entirety, are the two papal documents (AMENDMENTS TO “NORMAE DE GRAVIORIBUS DELICTIS” and INSTRUCTION ON CONFIDENTIALITY OF LEGAL PROCEEDINGS), an interview by Vatican News Editorial Director Andrea Tornielli with Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and an editorial commentary by Tornielli.
AMENDMENTS TO “NORMAE DE GRAVIORIBUS DELICTIS”
His Holiness Pope Francis, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Secretary of State and the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 4 October 2019, has decided to introduce the following amendments to the “Normae de gravioribus delictis” reserved to the judgement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in accordance with the Motu proprio of Saint John Paul II “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” (30 April 2001), as amended by the Rescriptum ex Audientia SS.mi dated 21 May 2010 and signed by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada:
Art. 6 § 1, 2° Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela is replaced in its entirety by the following text: “The acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of eighteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology”.
§ 1 – Art. 13 Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela is replaced in its entirety by the following text: “The role of Advocate or Procurator is carried out by a member of the faithful possessing a doctorate in canon law, who is approved by the presiding judge of the college”.
§ 2 – Art. 14 Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela is replaced in its entirety by the following text: “In other Tribunals, for the cases under these norms, only priests can validly carry out the functions of Judge, Promoter of Justice and Notary”.
The Holy Father has ordered that the present Rescriptum be published in L’Osservatore Romano and in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and take effect on 1 January 2020.
From the Vatican, 3 December 2019
INSTRUCTION ON CONFIDENTIALITY OF LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
His Holiness Pope Francis, in the Audience granted to His Excellency Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, on 4 December 2019, has decided to issue the Instruction On the Confidentiality of Legal Proceedings, attached to the present Rescriptum, of which it forms an integral part. The Holy Father has determined that the Rescriptum shall have firm and stable application, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if worthy of special mention, that it shall be promulgated by publication in L’Osservatore Romano, with immediate force, and then be published in the official commentary Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
From the Vatican, 6 December 2019
CARDINAL PIETRO PAROLIN Secretary of State
INSTRUCTION On the Confidentiality of Legal Proceedings
1. The pontifical secret does not apply to accusations, trials and decisions involving the offences referred to in: a) Article 1 of the Motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” (7 May 2019); b) Article 6 of the Normae de gravioribus delictis reserved to the judgement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in accordance with the Motu proprio “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” of Saint John Paul II (30 April 2001), and subsequent amendments.
2. Nor does the pontifical secret apply when such offenses were committed in conjunction with other offences.
3. In the cases referred to in No. 1, the information is to be treated in such a way as to ensure its security, integrity and confidentiality in accordance with the prescriptions of canons 471, 2° CIC and 244 §2, 2° CCEO, for the sake of protecting the good name, image and privacy of all persons involved.
4. Office confidentiality shall not prevent the fulfilment 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.
5. The person who files the report, the person who alleges to have been harmed and the witnesses shall not be bound by any obligation of silence with regard to matters involving the case.
INTERVIEW WITH ARCHBISHOP CHARLE SCICLUNA ON PAPAL RESCRIPT
Interview by Vatican News Editorial Director Andrea Tornielli with Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the publication of the Rescriptum of the Holy Father Francis On the Instruction Sulla Riservatezza delle cause (On the privacy of legal proceedings)
Published in Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano – 17 December
Scicluna: “An epochal decision that removes obstacles and impediments” – “The bishops had spoken about it at the February meeting on the protection of minors”.
«An epochal decision». This is how the archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna, adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, described the rescriptum published on Tuesday 17 December 2019, in this interview with Vatican Radio – Vatican News.
What importance does the Pope’s decision to abolish pontifical secrecy in cases of sexual violence in child abuse have?
I remember when the bishops were called to the Vatican by the Holy Father Francis in February 2019, that there was a full day of discussion on the question of transparency in cases of sexual misconduct. In May 2019 we have a new law which also gave an important impact and also development in the same line, and now we have another law by the Holy Father that says that cases of sexual misconduct are not under the Pontifical secret, that would be the highest level of confidentiality. That means, of course, the question of transparency now is being implemented at the highest level.
What does this decision change in concrete terms?
It opens up, for example, avenues of communication with victims, of collaboration with the state. Certain jurisdiction would have easily quoted the pontifical secret because that was the state of the law, in order to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorized to share information with either state authorities or the victims. Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse. However, the law goes further: it actually says, as also does Vos estis lux mundi, that information is of the essence if we really want to work for justice. And so, the freedom of information to statutory authorities and to victims is something that is being facilitated by this new law.
Does the abolition of pontifical secrecy mean that documents will become public?
The documents in a penal trial are not public domain, but they are available for authorities, or people who are interested parties, and authorities who have a statutory jurisdiction over the matter. So I think that when it comes, for example, to information that the Holy See has asked to share, one has to follow the international rules: that is, that there has to be a specific request, and that all the formalities of international law are to be followed. But otherwise, on the local level, although they are not public domain, communication with statutory authorities and the sharing of information and documentation are facilitated.
VATICAN NEWS EDITORIAL COMMENT ON PAPAL RESCRIPT
Following is a Comment by Editorial Director, Andrea Tornielli on the publication of the Rescript of the Holy Father Francis on the Instruction Sulla riservatezza delle cause (On the confidentiality of legal proceedings)
Published in Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano – 17 December 2019
Historic decision, fruit of the February summit
With the abolition of the pontifical secret for cases of sexual abuse against minors, Pope Francis continues on the path of transparency.
Convened by Pope Francis in the Vatican in February 2019, the summit on the protection of minors continues to bear fruit. In fact, today, Tuesday, 17 December, an important decision is being announced. It would not be hazardous to define it as historical. That decision regards the pontifical secret. The Pope, in fact, via a Rescript has decided to abolish it in cases of the sexual abuse of minors, of sexual violence and child pornography.
This means that any reporting, testimony and documents produced in canonical trials related to such cases of sexual abuse – those kept in Vatican Dicastery archives as well as those found in diocesan archives – which until now were subject to the pontifical secret, can now be handed over when requested to lawful authorities in their respective countries. This is a sign of openness, transparency, and the willingness to collaborate with the civil authorities.
In the case of Vatican Dicasteries, the request must be forwarded through the international rogatory process customary in the context of relations between States. The procedure is different, instead, for cases where the documents being requested are kept in diocesan Chancery archives: the competent legal authorities in each respective country must forward the request directly to the bishop. Particular arrangements provided for in agreements between the Church and State remain unaffected.
Connected to last May’s Motu Proprio Vos estis lux mundi, the breadth of Pope Francis’ decision is evident: the well-being of children and young people must always come before any protection of a secret, even the “pontifical” secret. The Rescript obviously does not affect the sacramental seal in any way, that is, the secret of confession, which is completely different from the pontifical secret, which covers documentation and testimony. Neither does it mean that in these cases those documents produced in canonical trials should enter into the public domain or that they should become matter for public disclosure. The right of the victims and the witnesses to confidentiality must always be protected. Now, however, the documentation must be placed at the disposal of the civil authority for the purpose of investigating cases for which canonical proceedings have already begun.
(A LINK TO POPE JOHN PAUL’S MOTU PROPRIO: