Pope Francis on Tuesday changed multiple articles of Vatican law to explicitly criminalize sex abuse by Catholic priests and spell out that even laypeople associated with the church can be punished for similar crimes.
The pope made changes to the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law after nearly 15 years of study.
The most notable changes were made in Articles 1395 and 1398.
“A cleric who continues in some other external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue which causes scandal is to be punished with suspension,” Article 1395 states.
“To this, other penalties can progressively be added if after a warning he persists in the offense until eventually he can be dismissed from the clerical state.”
The article notes that a “cleric who by force, threats or abuse of his authority” forces someone “to perform or submit to sexual acts is to be punished” would be dismissed by the church.
Article 1398 addresses the church’s relationship with minors. It says a cleric can be charged with “deprivation of office” if they “groom” or “induce” a minor or “expose himself or herself pornographically or take part in pornographic exhibitions.”
The article also penalizes the clergy for acquiring, exhibiting or distributing pornography to minors.
The papal changes also seek to eliminate the ability of bishops and other Catholic leaders to ignore or cover up known instances of abuse. Under the new rules, those leaders can be held accountable for others’ criminal behavior if they know about it and do nothing.
The changes on Tuesday mark the first time Catholic law officially labels “grooming” methods used by predators as criminal.
Francis has taken several steps in recent years to address decades of abuse and accusations of cover-ups by church leaders.
In 2019, the pope summoned senior bishops to Rome for a conference on the scandal and approved several major changes to Catholic doctrine regarding sexual abuse cases, including the abolition of secrecy rules. SOVEREIGNPH