Pope Francis has made significant changes in ecclesiastical law, making it easier to deal with sexual abuse within the Church.
In the new penal code, sexual abuse is no longer punishable by “violating the duty of celibacy”, but it becomes a “crime against the dignity of a person”. Priests who are guilty of sexual abuse of minors can now be removed from office. Fines or damages may also be imposed.
These are the most profound changes in almost forty years; the old code dates back to 1983. Critics said it was outdated and vague.
With “a new and clearly defined criminal law,” says Vatican connoisseur Andrea Vreede. “You now have the means to tackle various types of crime, especially sexual abuse.”
The amendment also punishable the grooming of minors and vulnerable adults: in other words, gaining confidence and then tempting them into sexual acts.
According to Vreede, the new code states that the definitions of crimes have become clearer and that the concept of abuse is defined more broadly. “That now covers all acts related to abuse. With clear descriptions of procedures, penalties and sanctions.”
Bert Smeets of the Abuse Victims Interest Association is critical of the changes:
Not to mention suspicions of abuse is also punishable. The new version of the Code will apply from 8 December this year.
There has been criticism of the church for years because sexual abuse is not tackled hard enough. Pope Francis has been striving to address the scandals surrounding abuse since he took office in 2013.