Vatican Changes Its Laws On Sexual Abuse By Priests

The Associated Press reports:

Pope Francis has changed church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority and to say that laypeople who hold church office can be sanctioned for similar sex crimes.

The new provisions, released 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.

Agence France-Presse reports:

The new code falls short of explicitly spelling out sexual offences against minors yet refers to offences against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery. A priest is to be stripped of his office and punished “with other just penalties” if he commits such offences with a minor, the new code says.

Similarly, a priest who grooms or induces a minor “to expose himself or herself pornographically or to take part in pornographic exhibitions” will be similarly punished. One aim of the revision, wrote Francis, was to reduce the number of penalties left to the discretion of judges, especially in the most serious cases.

The Washington Post reports:

The church is now several decades into its effort to reduce cases of clerical abuse and better hold to account bishops and cardinals who have sometimes protected known abusers.  Church critics say the very effort to handle punishment in-house is misguided: Civil authorities should be immediately notified and given responsibility for cases.

But those critics say the even the church’s canonical system, when used to dole out penalties to abusers, has been too lax, tending to value the word of priests over those of their alleged victims.