New Vatican law criminalizes adult sexual abuse by priests

Video above: Vatican releases long-awaited report on disgraced former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick Pope Francis changed church law to explicitly criminalize adult sexual abuse by priests who abuse their authority, and to say that lay people who hold religious positions can be punished for sex crimes. The new provisions, released Tuesday after 14 years of study, were contained in the revised criminal law section of the Vatican Code of Canon Law, the domestic legal system that covers the Catholic Church with 1.3 billion people strong. the changes are contained in two articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to fill the major gaps in the management of sexual abuse by the church. The law recognizes that adults can also be victims of priests who abuse their authority over them, and has stated that lay people in church offices, such as school principals or ward economists, can be punished. for having abused minors as well as adults. The Vatican has also criminalized the “grooming” of minors or vulnerable adults by priests to force them to engage in pornography. This is the first time that church law has officially recognized as criminal the method used by sexual predators to form relationships with their victims and then sexually exploit them. The law also removes much of the discretion that had long allowed bishops and religious superiors to ignore or cover up abuse, making it clear that they can be held responsible for omissions and negligence by failing to properly investigate and to sanction wandering priests. A bishop can be removed from office for “culpable negligence” or for failing to report sex crimes to authorities with no penalties under church law if he does not report the crime to police, the law says. Since the 1983 Code was first published, lawyers and bishops have complained that it was totally inadequate to deal with child sexual abuse because it was time consuming trials. The victims and their lawyers, meanwhile, argued that this left too much discretion to the bishops who had an interest in covering their priests. The Vatican has issued piecemeal changes over the years to address issues and shortcomings, most importantly requiring that all cases be sent to the Holy See for review and allow for a more streamlined administrative process to defrock a priest if the the evidence against him was overwhelming. More recently, Francis passed new laws to punish bishops and religious superiors who failed to protect their flocks. The new penal code incorporates and goes beyond these changes, while also recognizing that accused priests are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Under the new law, priests who engage in sexual acts with anyone – not just a minor or someone who has no sanity – can be defrocked if they have used ” force, threats or abuse of authority “to engage in sexual acts. Monsignor Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Vatican legal office, said this could cover up any grassroots member of the church who is sexually assaulted by a priest if it can be shown that the priest used force or abused his authority. This provision is contained in a section detailing violations of the priest’s obligation to remain celibate. Another section of the law concerns priestly crimes against the dignity of others, including sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. The law does not explicitly define which adults are covered, saying only an adult who “usually has an imperfect use of reason” or for “to whom the law recognizes equal protection”. The Vatican has long viewed any sexual relationship between a priest and an adult as sinful but consensual, believing that adults are able to offer or withhold their consent solely because of the nature of their age. But amid the #MeToo movement and scandals of seminarians and nuns sexually abused by their superiors, the Vatican has realized that adults can also be victims if there is an imbalance of power in the relationship. This dynamic was most clearly recognized in the scandal. on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington. Even though the Vatican had known for years that he slept with his seminarians, McCarrick was only brought to trial after someone came forward saying he had mistreated him in his youth. Francis finally defrocked him in 2019. In a novelty aimed at combating sexual crimes committed by lay people who hold religious positions, founders of lay religious movements or even accountants and parish administrators, the new law states that laymen can be punished in the same way if they abuse their authority to engage in sexual crimes. Since these lay people cannot be defrocked, sanctions include loss of their jobs, payment of fines, or exclusion from their community. The need for such a provision became clear in the scandal involving Luis Figari, the secular founder of the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a conservative movement that has 20,000 members and branches across South America and the United States. US independent investigation concluded that Figari was a paranoid narcissist obsessed with sex and watching his underlings endure pain and humiliation. But the Vatican and the local church hesitated for years on how to sanction him, ultimately deciding to expel him from Peru and isolate him from the community. The new law comes into force on December 8.

Video above: Vatican releases long-awaited report on disgraced former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick

Pope Francis changed Church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority, and to say that lay people who serve in the church can be punished for sex crimes similar.

The new provisions, released Tuesday after 14 years of study, were in the revised criminal law section of the Vatican Code of Canon Law, the domestic legal system that covers the Catholic Church, which is 1.3 billion strong.

The most significant changes are contained in two articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to fill the major gaps in the management of sexual abuse by the Church. The law recognizes that adults, too, can be victimized by priests who abuse their authority over them, and said lay people in church offices, such as school principals or parish economists, can be punished for having abused minors as well as adults.

The Vatican has also criminalized the “grooming” of minors or vulnerable adults by priests to coerce them into engaging in pornography. This is the first time that Church law has officially recognized as criminal the method used by sexual predators to establish relationships with their victims and then sexually exploit them.

The law also removes much of the discretion that had long allowed bishops and religious superiors to ignore or cover up abuse, making it clear that they can be held responsible for omissions and negligence by failing to properly investigate. and to sanction wandering priests.

A bishop can be removed from office for “culpable negligence” or for failing to report sex crimes to church authorities, although no sanction is provided in church law for failing to report the crime to the police. , according to the law.

Since the 1983 Code was first published, lawyers and bishops have complained that it was totally insufficient to tackle child sexual abuse because it required lengthy trials. Victims and their lawyers, meanwhile, argued that this left too much discretion in the hands of bishops who had an interest in covering their priests.

The Vatican has issued piecemeal changes over the years to address issues and shortcomings, most importantly requiring that all cases be sent to the Holy See for review and allowing for a more streamlined administrative process to defrock a priest if the evidence against him is. overwhelming.

More recently, Francis has passed new laws to punish bishops and religious superiors who have failed to protect their flocks. The new penal code incorporates and goes beyond these changes, while recognizing that accused priests are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

According to the new law, priests who engage in sexual acts with anyone – not just a minor or someone devoid of reason – can be defrocked if they have used “force, threats or abuse.” authority ”to engage in sexual acts.

Monsignor Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Vatican legal office, said this could cover up any grassroots member of the church who is sexually abused by a priest if it can be shown that the priest used force or abused his authority.

This provision is contained in a section detailing violations of the priest’s obligation to remain celibate. Another article of the law concerns priestly crimes against the dignity of others, including sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The law does not explicitly define which adults are covered, saying only an adult who “usually has an imperfect use of reason” or for “to whom the law recognizes equal protection”.

The Vatican has long viewed all sexual relations between a priest and an adult as sinful but consensual, believing that adults can offer or withhold consent only because of their age. But amid the #MeToo movement and scandals of seminarians and nuns being sexually abused by their superiors, the Vatican has come to realize that adults can also be victims of a power imbalance in the relationship.

This dynamic was most clearly recognized in the scandal of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington. Even though the Vatican had known for years that he slept with his seminarians, McCarrick was only brought to trial after someone came forward saying he had mistreated him in his youth. Francis finally defrocked him in 2019.

In a novelty aimed at combating sex crimes committed by lay people who hold positions in the church, founders of lay religious movements or even accountants and parish administrators, the new law says that lay people can be punished by the law. even so if they abuse their authority to engage in sex crimes.

Since these lay people cannot be defrocked, sanctions include loss of their jobs, payment of fines, or removal from their communities.

The need for such a provision was clearly expressed in the scandal involving Luis Figari, the secular founder of Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a conservative movement with 20,000 members and chapters across South America and the United States. .

An independent investigation concluded that Figari was a paranoid narcissist obsessed with sex and watching his subordinates endure pain and humiliation. But the Vatican and the local church have hesitated for years on how to sanction him, ultimately deciding to remove him from Peru and isolate him from the community.

The new law comes into force on December 8.


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