‘Pontifical secrecy’ sounds less like a policy and more like the plot point of a Dan Brown novel, but until just this week, it was what allowed the Catholic Church to protect clergy members accused of sexual abuse. On Tuesday Pope Francis ended the use of pontifical secrecy and “decreed that information in abuse cases must be protected by church leaders to ensure its ‘security, integrity, and confidentiality,’” according to a report by the Associated Press. He also ruled that pontifical secrecy cannot be invoked in instances of “abuse-related accusations, trials, and decisions under the Catholic Church’s canon law.”
The removal of this policy—one that gained traction when then-Cardinal Ratzinger (and later Pope Benedict XVI) convinced St. John Paul II that sexual abuse needed to be handled in-house under pontifical secrecy—will allow for Church officials and clergy members to participate in investigations with law enforcement. Pope Francis has also decreed that pornographic images of anyone under 18 will be officially considered child pornography. The change may seem long overdue, but for an operation still functioning under the law of the Council of Nicea, any progress is glacial at best.
The Pope’s new ruling also comes with flaws, much like the vicar himself. While the level of secrecy is removed, creating a better environment for victims and those aware of abuse to speak out, the ruling does not provide a mandate for reporting crimes to the police, as the AP points out. Instead, Church officials are compelled to operate within the legal parameters of the jurisdiction in which they are based.
Francis’s tenure as pope has been shaped by his somewhat erroneous image as a cool grandpa. Despite his persistent anti-gay stance, Francis has made comments about not passing judgment on the LGBT community, and he has extended an olive branch to other groups like Muslims and immigrants. These surface-level acts are more progressive than any prior papal positions. But for those who have been victimized by the clergy and shunned by the Church at large, will Francis’s baby steps toward progress be enough?