Two documents are destined to make a lasting mark: Pope Francis has abolished the pontifical secret in the case of sexual violence and the abuse of minors committed by members of the clergy. He has also decided to change the norm regarding the crime of child pornography by making the possession and dissemination of pornographic images of children under the age of 18 which fall under the category of delicta graviora – the most grave delicts.
The first and most important document is a Rescript signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin. This Rescript communicates that, last 4 December, the Pope decided to abolish the pontifical secret connected with reporting, trials and decisions regarding the crimes listed in the first article of the recent Motu Proprio Vos estis lux mundi, that is: cases of violence and sexual acts committed under threat or abuse of authority; cases of the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons; cases of child pornography; cases regarding the lack of reporting and the cover-up of the abusers on the part of bishops and superiors general of religious institutes.
The new instruction specifies that such information be “treated in such a way as to ensure its security, integrity and confidentiality” established by the Code of Canon Law to protect the “good name, image and privacy ” of those involved. But this “confidentiality”, the instruction also states, does “not prevent the fulfilment of the obligations laid down in all places by civil laws” including the possible obligation to report, and “the execution of enforceable requests of civil judicial authorities”. In addition, those reporting the crime, the victims and witnesses “shall not be bound by any obligation of silence” regarding the facts.
With the second Rescript, also signed by Cardinal Parolin as well as by the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the modification of three articles of the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (published in 2001 and modified in 2010) were made known. It establishes that falling under the most grave delicts reserved for judgment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are “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”. Up until now, the age limit had been established at 14 years.
Finally, in another article of the same Rescript, it is now permitted that, in cases regarding these more grave delicts, any member of the lay faithful holding a doctorate in canon law can perform the role of “Advocate or Procurator”, and no longer only priests.