New Vatican law criminalizes sexual abuse by priests and church officials


A police officer wearing a protective mask stands guard at the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Square and its main basilica on March 11, 2020 a day after they were closed to tourists as part of a broader clampdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

Andreas Solaro | AFP | Getty Images

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.

The most significant changes are contained in two articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to address major problems and shortcomings in the church’s handling of sexual abuse. The law recognizes that adults, too, can be victimized by priests who abuse their authority, and said that laypeople in church offices can be punished for abusing minors as well as adults.



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