Civil and Canon Law on Reporting Child Sexual Abuse to the Civil Authorities


  • Kieran Tapsell



Royal Commission into Institutional Responses, child sexual abuse, pontifical secret, canon law


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (‘Royal Commission') found that virtually all the institutions it examined had concealed from the civil authorities information about the sexual abuse of children under their care. The predominant motivation was the preservation of the reputation of the institution. The Royal Commission found that three religious institutions had written into their internal laws a requirement to conceal the abuse. The most significant of these is the Catholic Church. Reporting to the civil authorities involves using the state's criminal laws to punish those who abuse children and to provide a deterrence to others from doing the same thing. Where there are suspicions that a child's welfare is in danger, the state's child welfare laws require reporting by particular professions (doctors, nurses etc.) to specialist units to enable them to take necessary steps to protect them. This article argues that the Royal Commission found that the Catholic Church's canon law since 1922 required Church authorities to conceal child sexual abuse by clergy from the civil authorities. At a meeting of the heads of national bishops' conferences with Pope Francis in Rome in February 2019, an indication was given that the "pontifical secret" would be abolished. At the time of writing, this has yet to be enacted.

Author Biography

Kieran Tapsell

Kieran Tapsell is a retired civil lawyer and researcher into canon law on child sexual abuse.


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How to Cite

Tapsell, K. (2019). Civil and Canon Law on Reporting Child Sexual Abuse to the Civil Authorities. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 31(3), 143–164.