the Holy See27 and the Code of Canon Law.28 Both the Holy See and the Code of Canon Law seem
to be preoccupied with maintaining the image of the Church more than protecting victims who
have suffered at the hands of clergy members. By continuing to conform and adhere to the
Pontifical Secret and not requiring mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, the Roman Catholic
Church plays an important role in perpetuating child sexual abuse by clerics.
The Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest and most venerated establishments in the
world; its origin can be traced to apostolic times circa AD 30–95.29 There are roughly fifty-one
million Catholic adults in the United States alone.30 Despite it being the largest religious institution
in the United States, the Catholic Church is met with much disdain and criticism.31 Ardent
advocates for child victims of sexual abuse in all fields have spoken out against the Roman Church
and its policies but, due to a slew of legal barriers and current state statutes, the grand jury report
is unlikely to lead to criminal charges or civil lawsuits.32
Part I of this article explains the function of the Holy See and the hierarchy of the Roman
Catholic Church. Part II focuses on the role the Code of Canon Law has played in facilitating child
sexual abuse by clergy members. Specifically, the section explores how the Pontifical Secret,
sanctioning protocols, and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church have ultimately enabled
and encouraged underreporting of sexual abuse by adopting a stance which offers more protection
to the offender than to child victims. The sanctioning protocol for offending clergy has created
lenient, yet complex, penalties to be imposed at will. Additionally, the protocol has effectively
diminished the chances of securing justice for past victims by establishing an extremely difficult
standard of proof.
Part III focuses on Pennsylvania’s current state law governing child sexual abuse and its
mandatory reporting laws. The article further explores the grand jury report and its findings. Part
Part V of the article urges for a systemic reform within the Catholic Church. The reform
should focus on removing the protection offered by the Pontifical Secret on any allegations or acts
of child sexual abuse. Excluding child sexual abuse from the list of offenses the Pontifical Secret
protects will allow for transparency and will facilitate the removal of offending clergy members.
Further, in regard to the disciplinary system, this article suggests that the Church consider altering
its approach to discipline from a rehabilitative approach to a punitive approach. Additionally,
although Church and State remain separate, the Holy See should intervene and require bishops to
27 See generally THE HOLY SEE, http://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html (last visited Mar. 11, 2019).
28 See generally CODE OF CANON LAW, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM (last visited Mar. 11,
29 Barton Gingerich, What is Catholicism? – History, Tradition & Beliefs, CHRISTIANITY.COM,
https://www.christianity.com/church/denominations/what-is-catholicism.html (last visited Mar. 11, 2019).
30 David Masci & Gregory A. Smith, 7 facts about American Catholics, PEW RES. CTR. (Oct. 10, 2018),
32 Dan Levin, Why the Explosive Report on Catholic Church Abuse is Unlikely to Yield Criminal Charges, N. Y. TIMES
(Aug. 15, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/us/pennsylvania-sex-abuse-statute-of-limitations.html.