Pope Francis has bolstered criminal legislation against child abuse in the Vatican in an overhaul of laws that apply to the clergy and lay people who work in the city state.
The Vatican said on Thursday in a statement that the pope’s decree included “a broader definition of the category of crimes against minors” including child prostitution, sexual acts with children and child pornography.
He also increased cooperation with other states against money laundering and terrorism in a continuation of reforms started by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, to get the Vatican in line with international legislation.
The new norms also increase criminal liability for people working in Vatican departments – a potentially radical change that would complement his plans to root out corruption from the scandal-ridden Vatican bureaucracy.
The laws will come into force on September 1.
Cascade of scandals
Francis was elected on March 13 after the resignation of Pope Benedict, whose papacy was marred by paedophiliac scandals with tens of thousands of victims over several decades.
The cases of abusive priests came into the spotlight more than a decade ago with a cascade of scandals rocking the Church worldwide, from Ireland to the US, from Australia to Benedict’s native Germany.
The Vatican says it continues to receive about 600 claims against abusive priests every year, many of them dating back to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Sexual abuse by priests has often been coupled with cover-ups by their superiors, typically by transferring them to other parishes.
The Catholic Church in many countries has been forced to set up new guidelines to deal with cases of past abuse, prevent new cases, report abuse to police, and stop potential abusers from entering the priesthood in the first place.