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Pope Changes Canon Law Surrounding Sex Abuse Cases

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Pope Francis has ordered big changes in how the Catholic Church deals with clerical sex abuse of children. He is ushering in more transparency by lifting what's known as the rule of pontifical secrecy. Some churches have invoked that rule in denying victims and law enforcement access to information about their cases. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on this and the other announcements Francis made today.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Today's announcement was welcomed by many survivors of sex abuse and their advocates. Marie Collins, abused by a priest as a child in her native Ireland, had resigned in 2017 in frustration from a papal commission on abuse because of what she denounced as Vatican resistance. Today she hailed the reform, tweeting, excellent news; at last a real and positive change. Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse documentation website bishopaccountability.org, said the pope has taken an overdue and desperately needed step.

As sex abuse scandals rocked the Catholic Church over the last few decades, there has been mounting criticism that pontifical secrecy was used to protect pedophiles, silence victims and prevent law enforcement from investigations. Meanwhile, from Chile to France to the United States and Australia, law enforcement officials have begun to convict not only abusive priests but also bishops who fail to report them.

In accordance with the pope's ruling, from now on, information on abuse cases must be protected by church leaders to ensure its security and integrity. But the high degree of confidentiality imposed by pontifical secrecy no longer applies.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's top sex abuse investigator, hailed the move as an epochal decision in transparency. He told Vatican Media that Pope Francis' lifting of the secrecy seal opens up avenues of communication with victims and facilitates collaboration with civilian authorities.

In another ruling, Pope Francis raised from 14 to 18 the age that pictures of individuals can be considered child pornography for purposes of sexual gratification by whatever means or using whatever technology. And in a third move today, the pope accepted the resignation of his ambassador to France, who has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.

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