Kieran Tapsell’s “Potiphar’s Wife”

May 8, 2014

In this book by Kieran Tapsell which is to be launched on May 27 we can learn about canon law and secrecy in the Vatican, particularly in relation to sexual abuse. Kieran Tapsell has been a guest blogger on these issues on this site. John Menadue

For 1500 years, the Catholic Church accepted that clergy who sexually abused children deserved to be stripped of their status as priests and then imprisoned. A series of papal and Council decrees from the twelfth century required such priests to be dismissed from the priesthood, and then handed over to the civil authorities for further punishment.

That all changed in 1922 when Pope Pius XI issued his decree Crimen Sollicitationis that created a de facto ‘privilege of clergy’ by imposing the ‘secret of the Holy Office’ on all information obtained through the Church’s canonical investigations. If the State did not know about these crimes, then there would be no State trials, and the matter could be treated as a purely canonical crime to be dealt with in secret in the Church courts. Pope Pius XII continued the decree. Pope John XXIII reissued it in 1962. Pope Paul VI in 1974 extended the reach of ‘pontifical secrecy’ to the allegation itself. Pope John Paul II confirmed the application of pontifical secrecy in 2001, and in 2010, Benedict XVI even extended it to allegations about priests sexually abusing intellectually disabled adults. In 2010, Pope Benedict gave a dispensation to pontifical secrecy to allow reporting to the police where the local civil law required it, that is, just enough to keep bishops out of jail. Most countries in the world do not have any such reporting laws for the vast majority of complaints about the sexual abuse of children. Pontifical secrecy, the cornerstone of the cover up continues.

When Tapsell lets daylight into the dark rooms of canon law, so much that seemed inexplicable about this scandal suddenly makes sense. For all of us trying to understand why the church stumbled here, Potiphar’s Wife is a book of the first importance.

David Marr, journalist


Kieran Tapsell takes the reader by the hand and guides her carefully through the dark, subterranean tunnels of the Vatican, explaining the turns and twists of the peculiar Papal legal system and introducing her to the many men in frocks they bump into along the way. A journey not to be missed!

Christopher Geraghty, retired judge of the District Court of New South Wales


Kieran Tapsell studied for the Catholic priesthood at St. Columba’s College, Springwood, and St. Patrick’s College Manly in the 1960’s, during which time he studied Canon Law. After leaving the seminary, he studied Law at Sydney University. He was admitted a Solicitor and Barrister of the Supreme Court of NSW in 1973, was a partner in the firm of Watkins Tapsell from 1973 to 2004. He was an Acting District Court Judge from 1996 to 1999 and the author of many articles in legal journals on topics within his area of specialization. Since his retirement from his legal practice in 2004, he has been translating Latin American literature and newspaper columns from Spanish to English.

The link is below for an order form for Potiphar’s Wife.

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