Pope Francis has issued a highly anticipated law for Vatican City officials and diplomats overseas to prevent child sexual abuse as had been promised after February’s anti-abuse summit.
The pontiff released three documents in total: a “motu proprio” apostolic letter, plus a law and guidelines covering the territory of the Vatican, the world’s smallest nation, NAN reports.
The package, valid from June 1, introduces the legal obligation for all Vatican officials to report suspected cases of abuse, except for information covered by the seal of confession.
The Vatican characterized the law — and accompanying pastoral guidelines — as a reflection of the most advanced thinking on preventing and addressing sexual abuse in the church. The law, dated March 26, calls on church authorities to listen immediately to people who say they are victims and to report any credible allegations to prosecutors.
Those who fail to report could be subjected to financial penalties and jail time.
“Protection of minors and vulnerable people is an essential part of the evangelical message that the church and all of its members are called to spread across the world.” the pope wrote in a personal edict enacting the law. Francis said he wanted to “strengthen the institutional and regulatory framework to prevent and tackle abuses against minors and vulnerable people.”
In a statement on Friday, Alessandro Gisotti, the Vatican’s spokesman, said that Pope Francis had hoped that though the measures applied to the Vatican City State and its administration, “everyone might develop in their awareness that the church must always be ever increasingly a safe home for children and vulnerable persons.”
Other prescriptions are: no sharing of secrets with minors; remain always visible to others when liaising with them; and no gifts or special treatment for any particular child being supervised.
The rules concern abuses committed on Vatican soil or by Vatican citizens or residents – a community of around 800 people which includes about 300 Vatican diplomats posted around the world.
They state that anyone guilty of child sexual abuse must be removed from office, but also offered “spiritual and psychological” help to support “their reintegration into society.”
Hardly any children are Vatican residents. But Friday’s laws can apply to minors, who regularly enter Vatican walls, such as the 35 boys aged 9-13 who are part of the Sistine Chapel Choir.
The Vatican had long recommended national Catholic Church organisations to draft guidelines for the protection of minors, but had until now failed to adopt them for its own internal jurisdiction.
The Catholic Church is in turmoil worldwide over widespread reports of clerical child abuse, and the Vatican has repeatedly pledged to clean up its own house.
In February, Francis told a crisis summit of church leaders from around the world that the church would stop covering up the crimes of paedophile priests “as was usual in the past.”
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