Pope Francis Lifts “Pontifical Secret” Rule

Andrew Gu ‘23

On December 17, a monumental law was put into place by the pope to lift the “Pontifical Secret”. Since 1974, the “Pontifical Secret” rule was used as a way to protect “both the names of the accuser and the accused until the point at which there has been a firm judgment.” [1] Thus, protecting the victim and suspect from false judgment before the case has been closed. As church leaders called for the abolition of the “Pontifical Secret” at a February Vatican summit, the lift of the rule didn’t take place until this Tuesday. One of the main criticisms being that the high degree of confidentiality is used to protect assaulters, hurt the victims, and hinder police investigations. 


Pressured by the public, church leaders,  and 20 years of clergy sexually abusing others to make meaningful reform to help sexual assault victims, the Pope issued two documents which abolished the use of the “Pontifical Secret”. One of them raises the age of when pictures of individuals can be considered child pornography from 14 to 18. 


Even though the lift of this rule is supposed to make sexual abuse cases less secretive, Pope Francis has still decreed that the information in these abuse cases must be protected to ensure “security, integrity and confidentiality” [2]. This decree was not put in place to disregard the abolition of the “Pontifical Secret”, but to protect the victim even more, by keeping their identity safe if they desire it to be. 


This monumental act will lead to better and more accurate trials. Before this decision, victims of this abuse were silenced and believed that they could not report the situation to the police. The scandal would be hidden, and police would be blocked from accessing the documents to carry out a true investigation. Now, it will be a much more open system that will allow the victims to receive all the help and services that they need. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s leading sex abuse investigator, called the reform an “epochal decision that will allow for better coordination of police forces across the world and open up lines of communication with victims”. [2] 


The day this amendment was signed, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Vatican ambassador to France, resigned, amid investigation for sexual assault of minors. The lifting of this rule is an attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to get rid of the clergy abusing its power and will help the church repair its image of secrecy. In the future, sexual abuse victims will get the support and help that they need and a proper investigation will take place to give the abuser the punishment that they deserve.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2019/12/17/788854769/pope-francis-abolishes-pontifical-secrecy-in-sex-abuse-cases-promising-transpare

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/pope-francis-sex-abuse-church-testimony-secret-child-pornography-a9250061.html