The Holy Father’s decision to exclude accusations, trials and decisions regarding sexual abuse committed within the Church from the “pontifical secret” was published on December 17, 2019. The decision resonated widely and many people have hailed it as a very important step forward – some have even called it historic – in the fight against these very serious crimes.
Twelve months after the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church (February 21-24, 2019) it is right to take this opportunity to retrace the path taken since then, because in the meantime there have been other steps, no less important, taken by Pope Francis.
The protection of minors in Vatican City and the Roman Curia
The first step had been taken a few weeks after the meeting; the fruit of work that was already underway before the meeting began. On March 26 the pope signed the motu proprio On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons, concerning people in the Roman Curia and Vatican City State. It was accompanied by a new law of the Vatican City State on the subject, and guidelines for the Vicariate of Vatican City.
Although the law and guidelines cover a narrow geographical area and a small number of people, these steps are actually very important. Thanks to the motu proprio, the new law applies not only in the territory of the Vatican City State, but to all the staff of the Roman Curia, including the diplomatic corps abroad, and Vatican employees.
The pope’s document sets out fundamental principles, including the “duty to report abuse to the competent authorities”; the right of victims “to be welcomed, listened to and accompanied”; the right of defendants to “a fair and impartial trial, in compliance with the presumption of innocence, as well as the principles of legality and proportionality between the crime and sentence”; the removal of convicted persons from their duties, but also supported in their psychological and spiritual rehabilitation; appropriate training for the protection of minors and vulnerable people.
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