When it comes to the abuse of children by members of the clergy, using secrecy to hide problems rather than protect victims “must go out the window,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh.
“Let’s put secrecy aside,” Archbishop Martin told journalists. “Secrecy has been one of the root causes of the problems that we are in today. And therefore, we need to be cautious.”
Secrecy and, more specifically, the imposition of “pontifical secrecy” in cases of clerical sex abuse were raised several times during the Vatican’s summit on child protection and the clerical abuse crisis.
The pontifical secret ensures cases are dealt with in strict confidentiality. Vatican experts have said it was designed to protect the dignity of everyone involved, including the victim, the accused, their families and their communities.
Already in September 2017, members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors asked Pope Francis to
reconsider Vatican norms maintaining the imposition of “pontifical secret” in the church’s judicial handling of clerical sex abuse and other grave crimes.
When asked if he spoke to Pope Francis regarding a possible revision of how “pontifical secrecy” is applied in clerical sex abuse cases, Archbishop Martin said that although he hasn’t asked the pope about it, “the meeting is asking that question, not just Eamon Martin.”
“I get a very strong sense from Pope Francis that he wants to do whatever has to be done,” he said.
Linda Ghisoni, a canon lawyer who serves as a consultant for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is undersecretary for laity at the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, called at the summit for the norms regulating the use of “pontifical secrecy” to be re-examined.
Ghisoni said that while there are values to protect, including the good name of the accused, unless and until he or she is proven guilty, a revision could lead to “the development of a climate of greater transparency and trust, avoiding the idea that the secret is used to hide problems rather than protect the values at stake.”
Echoing Ghisoni’s sentiments, Archbishop Martin said that while he is not advocating for a “fool-hardy transparency” that ignores a person’s right to privacy, access to files concerning abuses must be “opened to those who have this responsibility for investigating crime and, indeed, keeping children safe.”
“We’re not here to throw someone to the lions without a proper due process,” he said. “But I do think that I would be extremely cautious about being overly secretive at any level in this issue.”
Photo: Archbishop Eamon Martin talks with Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, during the third day of the meeting on the protection of minors in the Church at the Vatican.