A new clergy sex abuse lawsuit claims Pope Francis and other senior leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were aware that priests had sexually abused children, but intentionally concealed their misconduct from the public.
According to the New York Post, the class action complaint was filed this week in Manhattan federal court by seven survivors who had previously settled with the church for “pennies on the dollar.” The filing was made possible by the passage of the New York Child Victims Act, which greatly extended the statute of limitations for pursuing civil and legal claims in cases of child sexual abuse.
The complaint alleges that the Holy See, the church’s governing body, negligently instructed bishops around the world to cover up cases of clergy sexual abuse. Because families were not warned, hundreds of children were unknowingly exposed to pedophile priests.
“The Holy See has known for centuries that Catholic priests were using their positions and roles in Catholic parishes and schools to sexually molest children,” the suit charges.
Just yesterday, Pope Francis abolished “Pontifical Secrecy” in clergy sex abuse cases, amid criticism that the policy only served to protect predatory priests, silence their victims, and prevent law enforcement from investigating their crimes.
Pontifical Secrecy is the code of confidentiality that, in accordance with church law, applies in matters that require extraordinary confidentiality, including diplomatic correspondence, personnel issues and alleged crimes. The church has applied Pontifical Secrecy to clergy sex abuse allegations since 2001, when Pope Benedict XVI – then a cardinal – convinced Pope John Paul II to order that such cases be handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in accordance with the rule.
While Francis declared on Tuesday that information in clergy sex abuse cases must be protected by church leaders to ensure its “security, integrity and confidentiality,” the Pontifical Secrecy rule will no longer apply to allegations, trials and decisions under the Catholic Church’s canon law.
“The person who files the report, the person who alleged to have been harmed and the witnesses shall not be bound by any obligation of silence with regard to matters involving the case,” Francis wrote.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s leading sex crimes investigator, said the decree eliminates any excuse to not cooperate with legitimate legal requests from prosecutors, police or other civil authorities.
According to the Associated Press, Francis also raised the cutoff age for images the Vatican considers to be child pornography from 14 to 18.
The decision followed the discovery of gay porn involving “youngsters, but not children” on the cell phone of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, one of Francis’ Argentine proteges. The Pope was apparently aware of child sex abuse allegations involving Zanchetta in 2015, and has even acknowledged that he had asked the now-disgraced bishop about the pornography accusations. Francis apparently chose to give Zanchetta the benefit of the doubt after he insisted the phone had been hacked.
“To date, the church has been especially lenient towards priests who offend against older children” with pornography, BishopAccountability.org’s Anne Barrett Doyle told the Associated Press. “Extending the pornography ban sends a message that this vulnerable group of minors must be protected too.”