Pope Francis issued a new decree making it mandatory for Vatican City officials or its diplomats around the globe to immediately report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities or face possible jail time.
The edict, called a Motu Proprio and which goes into effect on June 1, comes after an international summit of church leaders convened at the Vatican in February to address the abuse and protection of minors.
It is the first set of concrete protocols established by the Holy See in response to the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church to its core.
The Associated Press reports:
The law for the first time provides a 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.
According to the new Vatican definition, a vulnerable person is anyone who is sick or suffering from a physical or psychiatric deficiency, isn’t able to exercise personal freedom and has a limited capacity to understand or resist the crime.
The issue of whether “vulnerable people” can include seminarians, religious sisters or other adults who are emotionally dependent on clergy has come to the fore in the wake of the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a once high-ranking American cleric who molested seminarians, and revelations of priests and bishops around the world sexually preying on nuns.
The New York Times reports:
“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.”