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17.12.2019 Europe

Pope Francis scraps 'pontifical secret' sex abuse cover-up clause

By Paul Myers - RFI
REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
LISTEN DEC 17, 2019
REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Pope Francis has lifted a clause that campaigners claim had been used to hush up sex abuse within the Catholic Church. The pontiff abolished the "pontifical secret" rule under powers allowing him to revamp specific points of church law or parts of previous papal documents.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the Vatican's most experienced sex abuse investigators, told Vatican Radio: "This is an epochal decision."

The pope's move came as he accepted the resignation of Archbishop

Luigi Ventura, the Holy See's ambassador to France, who has been accused of sexual molestation.

The lifting of pontifical secrecy in sex abuse investigations was a key demand by church leaders, including Scicluna and the German cardinal, Reinhard Marx, at a summit on sexual abuse held at the Vatican in February.

Change in the church
They argued that secrecy in cases of sexual abuse of minors was outdated and some church officials were hiding behind it instead of cooperating with authorities.

Scicluna said the new provisions open up ways to communicate with victims and cooperate with the state.

"Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret ... to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorised to share information with either state authorities or the victims," Scicluna said.

"Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse," he said.

The Catholic Church has been hit by scandal involving the sexual abuse of children by priests around the world in the past 20 years. Francis has vowed zero tolerance for offenders but victims of abuse want him to do more and make bishops who allegedly covered up the abuse accountable.