NZ Catholic Church welcomes Pope’s move to abolish secrecy obligation for abuse victims

Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, speaks at a penitential liturgy during a meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 23, 2019, in this image from Vatican television. The liturgy was attended by Pope Francis and prelates from around the world. (CNS photo/Vatican Television) See SUMMIT-PENITENTIAL-LITURGY Feb. 23, 2019.

The Catholic Church in New Zealand welcomed Pope Francis decision to lift the obligation for secrecy for victims of clerical sexual abuse, said Wellington Cardinal John Dew, Metropolitan Archbishop for New Zealand.

In a new “Instruction On the Confidentiality of Legal Proceedings” published on December 17, the Pope ordered that “the person who files the report, the person who alleges to have been harmed and the witnesses shall not be bound by any obligation of silence with regard to matters involving the case”.

“We welcome this declaration by Pope Francis. The issue of ‘Pontifical Secrecy’ regarding sexual abuse has not been an issue in New Zealand because the Church here is strongly committed to cooperating with the police and judicial authorities in such matters,” Cardinal Dew said.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, as well as several religious orders in New Zealand, have earlier lifted confidentiality obligations to enable survivors of abuse to freely engage with the royal commission investigating abuse in care.

“Well before this new instruction from Pope Francis, the Church in New Zealand had already sought and got Church organisations to agree to waivers of any confidentiality clauses signed in the past with abuse victims. This was so we can cooperate fully with the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care,” he said.

Cardinal Dew said the fact there have been criminal convictions for clerical abuse in New Zealand dating back to the 1990s “demonstrates the willingness of the Church to share information with the relevant authorities”.

“But the Pope’s new instruction sends a clear message around the world that the Church is committed to openness and transparency in matters of abuse,” he said.

“The New Zealand Church’s complaints process provides that we will encourage and support complainants in sexual abuse cases to go to the police.”

The cardinal reiterated the Church’s commitment to providing a safe environment in the community.

 “Any form of abuse, misconduct or inappropriate behaviour in the Church community is not acceptable,” he said.

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