Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests and others who participate in church trials are no longer bound by secrecy rules against discussing the cases, the Vatican announced Tuesday.
Newly published church documents revealed Pope Francis has approved several major changes to Catholic doctrine regarding sexual abuse cases, with the most important being the abolition of the "pontifical secret."
That doctrine has banned participants in church trials and other internal actions against accused priests from discussing those proceedings in public, such as with outside civil authorities. The church has been accused over the years of using pontifical secrecy as a means to protect accused child abusers.
The Pope said that while information in sexual abuse cases should still be treated with "security, integrity and confidentiality," that should not prevent "the fulfillment of the obligations laid down in all places by civil laws."
Those reporting the crime, the victims and witnesses, he wrote, "shall not be bound by any obligation of silence" regarding the facts.
Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna said the new ruling means "the question of transparency now is being implemented at the highest level," calling it an "epochal decision that removes obstacles and impediments."
In another change to church policy, Pope Francis revised the church's definition of what constitutes child pornography. Under the old policy, the age of limit of the minors depicted was set at 14 years; that has now been raised to 18 years.
A third new policy allows lay church members, rather than only ordained clergy, to defend priests accused of child sex abuse in church trials.