Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy are suing Pope Francis, claiming he and senior Vatican officials knew that a number of priests molested children but kept the revelation a secret, the New York Post reported on Tuesday.
The class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, brought by seven victims of abuse. The sole defendant named in the suit is the Holy See, the governing body of the entire Catholic Church, at whose head is the Pope.
“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 alleges.
Pope Francis on Tuesday ended the policy of “pontifical secrecy” to guard information on sexual abuse cases. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s leading investigator of sex abuse crimes, called the move an “epochal decision” that will facilitate greater communication between civil law enforcement and church investigators.
Francis said that cases of alleged abuse should still be handled with “security, integrity and confidentiality” to protect victims and the accused.
The class-action suit alleges the “pontifical secrecy” rule prevented many church officials from revealing abuse.
“This mandatory secrecy policy, imposed on threat of removal and ex-communication, bound Bishops and Dioceses for well over a century,” the suit reads.
The suit was brought by victims following the enactment of the Child Victims Act in New York state in February. The law extended the statute of limitations in criminal sex abuse cases to age 28, while civil suits can be brought by a victim until age 55.