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Pope introduces new Vatican laws on sex abuse

The move came a day after a UN child rights committee drew fresh attention to the Catholic Church sex scandal.

File photo of Pope Francis.
File photo of Pope Francis.
Image: Riccardo De Luca/AP

POPE FRANCIS TODAY bolstered criminal legislation against child abuse in the Vatican and increased the liability of employees of the tiny city state in an overhaul of laws.

The Vatican said in a statement that the pope’s decree included “a broader definition of the category of crimes against minors” including child prostitution, sexual acts with children and child pornography.

The move came a day after a UN child rights committee drew fresh attention to the Catholic Church sex scandal, calling on the Vatican to release details “of all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy”.

Racism and war crimes

The new laws introduce specific forms of crime that are indicated in international conventions that the Vatican has already ratified including against racism and war crimes and on children’s rights.

“The Holy See is finally making up for a serious lag,” the international children’s rights organisation Terre des Hommes said in a statement, adding that the changes to the law were “of epochal importance.”

The legislation applies to a few thousand people who are directly employed by the Vatican in Rome and abroad. Sex abuse cases which take place in other countries are dealt with under national legislations.

Francesco Antonio Grana for Il Fatto Quotidiano said the move was a fresh example of Francis’s zeal for reform, saying he had “vigorously launched a battle” against the paedophilia crisis which has plagued the Church.

But clergy sex abuse victims’ group SNAP slammed the pontiff decree as “tweaking often-ignored and ineffective internal church abuse guidelines to generate positive headlines but nothing more.”

The pontiff’s legal overhaul also falls in with the Vatican’s declared desire for greater transparency in the wake of numerous corruption scandals.

Francis increased cooperation with other states against money laundering and terrorism in a continuation of reforms begun by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, to get the Vatican in line with international legislation.

The Argentine has also moved to tackle the Vatican’s murky bank.

Yesterday, he unexpectedly attended the first meeting of a special committee of experts he has set up to investigate the scandal-plagued institution.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told La Repubblica the decree did not enact reforms called for by the European anti-money laundering committee, Moneyval, to bring the city state into line with international standards on corruption.

“Other laws are being prepared. Regulations which concern the requests made by Moneyval,” Lombardi said.


In a potentially radical change, Francis’s new decree introduces the administrative responsibility of Vatican departments — a move that would complement his plans to root out corruption within the Vatican bureaucracy.

Dominique Mamberti, who is in charge of relations between the Holy See and other states, said that while many of the specific crimes were new, they had existed before under umbrella categories and been punished accordingly.

The pope’s reform “extends the reach of the legislation contained in these criminal laws to the members, officials and employees of the various bodies of the Roman Curia,” the central body of the Catholic Church, he said.

The laws, which the Vatican said revise its “rather dated” criminal code, will come into force on September 1.

Among the novelties is that life imprisonment will be outlawed and replaced with a maximum sentence of 35 years.

There was also a direct consequence of the “Vatileaks” scandal last year when Benedict’s butler Paolo Gabriele published confidential documents from Vatican offices alleging widespread corruption and mismanagement.

While Gabriele insisted he acted alone in his drive to expose “evil and corruption” within the Holy See, there were insistent reports in the Italian media of other employees ready to violate the Vatican’s code of secrecy.

Punishment will now be increased for anyone stealing secret papers, from up to two years in jail and a fine for low-importance leaks, to up to eight years in prison if the documents concern the “fundamental interests” of the Holy See.

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