Pope Francis issues child protection laws for Vatican City State, Roman Curia

Pope Francis May 22 2018 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA Pope Francis May 22, 2018. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis Friday issued new laws and guidelines on the protection of minors for those working within Vatican City State and the Roman Curia, including the obligation to report abuse.

Under the new law, promulgated by the pope March 29, officials of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State are obliged to report "without delay" any knowledge or well-founded suspicion of abuse against a minor or vulnerable adult learned in the exercise of their position – though with the obvious exception of information learned only within confession, which is protected by the sacramental seal.

The failure to report abuse in a timely manner is punishable by a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 euros (about $1,123-$5,616). Promulgated in an apostolic letter issued "motu proprio," the law and guidelines go into effect June 1.

In addition to mandatory reporting, the new laws introduce protections and services for victims of abuse, and require the hiring process within the governorate of Vatican City to include a determination of a candidate's suitability to interact with minors.  

The law also establishes an expanded definition of the term "vulnerable persons," which it says is anyone "in an infirm state, of physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal freedom, that in fact, even occasionally, limits their capacity to intend or to want or in any way to resist the offense."

For the purposes of the law, a "vulnerable person" is considered equal to a "minor."

Pope Francis wrote that the laws and guidelines are intended "to further strengthen the institutional and regulatory framework for preventing and counteracting abuse of minors and vulnerable adults" in the Roman Curia and Vatican City State.

"The protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the evangelical message the Church and all her members are called to spread around the world," he wrote. Everyone has "the duty to welcome minors and vulnerable persons with generosity and to create a safe environment for them."

"This requires a continuous and profound conversion," he continued, "in which personal holiness and moral commitment can help to promote the credibility of the evangelical message and to renew the educational mission of the Church."

Pope Francis also addressed in his letter the importance of guaranteeing to the accused the right to a fair and impartial trial, in respect to the presumption of innocence.

The law gives a statute of limitations of 20 years, which in the case of a minor begins from the 18th year of age.

Up to this point, the Vatican City State's penal law was more concise and only described the crime of abuse, a professor of canon law, Fr. Fernando Puig, explained to CNA.

"With the norms and guidelines promulgated today, the Vatican is endowed with means to prevent and prosecute these crimes [against minors], facilitate its reporting, care for victims and punish the guilty, with systems similar to those of 'normal' states, but also in a similar way to dioceses," he said.

He clarified that the new norms apply to "crimes committed by public officials, laymen or clerics, at the service of Vatican City or the Roman Curia."

The apostolic letter and guidelines were part of the concrete measures announced at the end of the Vatican abuse summit in February and mark "the first important step" following that meeting, papal spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said March 29.

He pointed out that even the child protection guidelines for the Vicariate of Vatican City have the signature of the pope.

"Together, these acts reinforce the protection of minors by strengthening the normative framework," he stated.

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"The Holy Father hopes that – thanks also to these norms which pertain to Vatican City State and to the Roman Curia – everyone might develop in their awareness that the Church must always be ever increasingly a safe home for children and vulnerable persons."

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