Pope Francis targets child abuse, leaks in Vatican legal reform

Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:55am EDT
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By Catherine Hornby

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis, acting to end years of scandals damaging the Catholic Church, overhauled Vatican law on Thursday to specify sexual violence against children as a crime and impose tough penalties for staff who leak confidential Vatican information.

Issuing a "Motu Proprio", a decree of his own initiative, Francis also said he would renew the Holy See's commitment to international conventions against organized crime and terrorism.

Under the changes, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, child prostitution and child pornography are cited in a broader definition of crimes against minors and punishable by up to 12 years in prison, a Vatican document showed.

Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict in March, inherited a Church struggling to restore its credibility after a spate of scandals including the molestation of children by priests in a number of countries and an investigation into suspected money-laundering at the Vatican's bank.

The legal changes apply only within the Vatican City state but are meant to demonstrate that Francis is taking the various scandals seriously and aims to align Church policy with international legal standards.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was unimpressed, saying his initiative might burnish the Vatican's image but "in the real world this changes virtually nothing (as it affects only) the 0.2 square miles of Vatican property".

SNAP urged the Church hierarchy to focus on having its personnel abide by long-established secular laws on sexual abuse and rooting out bishops who failed to protect children.

The Vatican was also shaken last year by the "Vatileaks" affair in which Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted for stealing personal papal documents and leaking them to the media. He was pardoned by Benedict after being briefly jailed.   Continued...

Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican is silhouetted during sunset in Rome, March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hanna