Vatican City, June 1
Pope Francis has changed church law to explicitly criminalise the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority and to clarify that laypeople who hold church office can be sanctioned for similar sex crimes.
The law recognises that adults, too, can be victimised by priests who abuse their authority. It says laypeople in church offices can be punished for abusing minors as well as adults.
The new provisions, released on Tuesday after 14 years of study, were contained in the revised criminal law section of the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law, the in-house legal system that covers the 1.3 billion-strong Catholic Church.
The most significant changes are contained in two Articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to address major shortcomings in the church’s handling of sexual abuse. The law recognises that adults, too, can be victimised by priests who abuse their authority, and said laypeople in church offices can be punished for abusing minors as well as adults.
The Vatican also criminalised the “grooming” of minors or vulnerable adults by priests to compel them to engage in pornography. It’s the first time church law has officially recognised as criminal the method used by sexual predators to build relationships with their victims to then sexually exploit them.
The law also removes much of the discretion that had long allowed bishops and religious superiors to ignore or cover up abuse, making clear they can be held responsible for omissions and negligence in failing to properly investigate and sanction errant priests. Ever since the 1983 code was issued, lawyers and bishops have complained it was completely inadequate to deal with the sexual abuse of minors, since it required time-consuming trials. Victims and their advocates, meanwhile, have argued it left too much discretion in the hands of bishops who had an interest in covering up for their priests. — AP