For centuries, the Vatican saw itself as an independent empire unaccountable to any civil or secular authorities, with its own jails, police force, schools and universities, even its own system of laws and regulations known as canon law.

In 1974, the Vatican imposed "The Pontifical Secret”, which made any allegation or investigation of sexual abuse against a cleric, a church secret. Any bishop or clergy that defied this decree, and went to the local authorities, could be excommunicated.