Pope Francis yesterday issued sweeping new sex abuse legislation for Vatican personnel and diplomats that requires the immediate reporting of abuse allegations to Vatican prosecutors, a policy shift aimed at being a model for the Catholic Church worldwide.
The mandatory reporting provision, while limited in scope, marks the first time the Vatican has put into law requirements for Catholic officials to report allegations of sex crimes to police or face fines and possible jail time.
Francis also issued child protection guidelines for Vatican City State and its youth seminary, acting after the global sex abuse scandal exploded anew last year and The Associated Press reported that the headquarters of the Church had no policy to protect children from predator priests.
While the new norms only cover Vatican City State, affiliated institutions and the diplomatic corps, they were still symbolically significant and were welcomed by a former seminarian whose case helped spark the reform.
“I see this as something positive,” Kamil Jarzembowski told the AP.
The law for the first time provides an explicit Vatican definition for “vulnerable people” who are entitled to the same protections as minors under Church law.
The Vatican amended its canon law covering sex abuse to include “vulnerable adults” in 2010, but never defined it.
The law now requires any Vatican public official who learns of an allegation of abuse to report it to Vatican prosecutors “without delay”. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to €5,000 or, in the case of a Vatican gendarme, up to six months of prison.
“With this document the Vatican wants to send a message that it takes these crimes seriously, wants to prosecute them, to avoid cover up, and also to create an atmosphere that prevents these crimes from happening in the first place,” said Ulrich Rhode, a canon law professor at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.