Pope Francis Issues New Rules for Cases of Clergy Abuse

Following decades of institutionalized secrecy in cases of clergy abuse, today Pope Francis has issued new rules relating to how such cases are handled, ostensibly aiming at creating more transparency. We hope that these reforms will lead to less secrecy in cases of abuse and more openness from church officials throughout the world.

Francis’ new institution, entitled Sulla riservatezza delle cause, means that cases of clergy abuse will no longer be treated as a “pontifical secret.” That institution has also raised the use of child pornography to the level of “grave edict,” and also stated that victims who come forward to report cannot be bound to silence by church officials.

These reforms are long overdue but symbolize an important step in the right direction. Still, right now they are only words on paper and what needs to happen next is concrete action. Symbols are not enough.

For years church officials have resisted releasing information publicly that could help protect children and support survivors, such as the names, whereabouts, and current status of accused clergy. In the United States, that trend has shifted in recent months thanks to pressure from parishioners and the public, yet many church officials still hold tightly to their secrets, refusing to release information about dangerous abusers to the public because of Vatican rules.

Now, that argument will no longer hold water.

But even though this edict has been handed down, we believe it is even more critical for secular professionals in law enforcement in the United States and abroad to continue investigating cases of clergy abuse without depending on the cooperation of church officials. The only reason that the church is dealing with this issue now is from the pressure that has been brought about through secular investigations. We hope this acknowledgement of secrecy and concealment from church officials will encourage police and prosecutors to go after these cases with more vigor, not less.

Now that this rule has been passed, we call on the remaining dioceses in the United States that have not yet released lists publicly to do so before the end of the year. This same move should be taken by every religious order – for both priests and nuns – and these lists should be prominently published and made publicly available. Those dioceses that have posted lists should update those lists with all of the known information about the abusers, especially with information relating to when each allegation was made, what steps were taken by officials in response, and when that abuser was finally removed from their position around children and vulnerable adults.

In places like Illinois, nearly 500 names of clergy abusers remain hidden in internal files, according to a secular investigation. In North Carolina, church officials have dragged their feet on their promise to release information on all priests accused of abuse. And across the country, scores of abusive clerics remained unmonitored and unknown to the public because of this established practice of secrecy.

Pope Francis’ declaration sets the stage for more transparency and openness. Now it’s up to church officials around the world to deliver on that promise and release information that will better protect children and the vulnerable.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009), Tim Lennon, SNAP President ([email protected]415-312-5820), Judy Klapperich-Larson, SNAP Vice-President ([email protected], 801-831-5277), Becky Ianni, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 703-801-6044)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org

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