Pope Francis has announced changes to the way the Catholic Church will handle sexual misconduct.

Pope Francis has officially abolished the rule of  “pontifical secrecy” which will ultimately change the way the Roman Catholic Church handles reports of sexual abuse within the institution.

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The Vatican released a bulletin on December 17, Pope Francis’s 83rd birthday, announcing the changes that come into effect immediately.

Reuters reports: “Two documents issued by the pope back practices that have been in place in some countries, particularly the United States, such as reporting suspicion of sex abuse to civil authorities where required by law.

“The documents, which put the practices into universal Church law, also forbid imposing an obligation of silence on those who report sex abuse or allege they have been a victim.”

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America Magazine points out, however, “The “pontifical secret” is not related to the seal of the confessional, which remains absolute (and inviolable) in Catholic teaching and practice.

“Rather, the pontifical secret refers to confidentiality in the church’s judicial handling of clerical sex abuse and other grave crimes (as well as secrecy in other areas, such as some matters concerning the appointment of cardinals and bishops). The secrecy ensures that 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.”

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s most experienced sex abuse investigator, said: “Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret ... to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorized to share information with either state authorities or the victims.

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

Archbishop Scicluna discusses the changes here with Vatican News:

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Marie Collins, who was abused by a priest in Ireland as a child and previously served on the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors, said in a tweet that the change is “Excellent news:”

Excellent news. Recommended by PCPM during first term, so good to see it being implement. At last a real and positive change. https://t.co/8ZKm2TKRR7

— Marie Collins (@marielco) December 17, 2019

In addition to lifting the pontifical secrecy rule, one of the documents also raises to 18 or under from 14 or under the age that pictures of individuals can be considered child pornography “for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology.” That change will come into effect in January.

Anne Barrett Doyle from BishopAccountability told The Associated Press: “To date, the church has been especially lenient towards priests who offend against older children.

“Extending the pornography ban sends a message that this vulnerable group of minors must be protected too.”

In a statement, the Vatican’s editorial director Andrea Torinelli said: “The breadth of Pope Francis’ decision is evident: The well-being of children and young people must always come before any protection of a secret, even the ‘’pontifical secret.’”

Pope Francis has announced changes to the way the Catholic Church will handle sexual misconduct.