Pope Francis has created new laws criminalizing sexual abuse of children within the Vatican, in his first set of laws issued on Thursday. The legislation, which will take effect on September 1, only affects those who live or work in Vatican City.
The new laws create a broader definition of crimes against children, including sexual violence and sexual acts with children, the production and possession of child pornography, the sale of children, and child prostitution.
Under current Vatican criminal law, which is is primarily based on the 1889 Italian penal code, these acts are merely considered a violation of “good customs,” and carry a maximum punishment of 3 to 10 years. Under the new legislation, the crimes will be specifically and explicitly listed, and carry a slightly longer 5 to 10 year punishment with 12-year maximum if aggravating circumstances are involved, according to a Vatican spokesman.
The legislation comes two days after the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) announced that it would be asking the Vatican to hand over internal documents on its treatment of predatory priests and abuse victims worldwide, as part of an investigation into the city state’s adherence to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Vatican is a signatory. The new laws will bring the Vatican closer to compliance with the Convention, although their scope is narrow and many more of the CRC’s questions remain answered. The CRC has requested a detailed report in reply to its questions before it convenes in January.
The new laws are part of a penal code that only has jurisdiction over those who live and work within the borders of Vatican City, and do not affect the rules that govern the universal Catholic Church. Amidst the decades-long worldwide scandal over sexual abuse of children by priests and the complicity of some Church officials in cover-ups, the narrow scope of the new laws has left victims and their advocates unimpressed.
“For the Vatican’s image, this is a successful move. For children’s safety, this is another setback,” David Clohessy, the director of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, told The Telegraph. “In the real world, this changes virtually nothing. It’s is precisely the kind of ‘feel good’ gesture that Vatican officials have long specialised in: tweaking often-ignored and ineffective internal Church abuse guidelines to generate positive headlines but nothing more.”
Along with the laws on sexual abuse of children, Pope Francis also issued laws concerning leaks of official documents and money-laundering.
Kumar Ramanathan is an intern at ThinkProgress.