Pope revises Canon law to strip priests who molest minors

Pope revises Canon law to strip priests who molest minors
We cannot turn a blind eye to racism, Pope Francis reacts to George Floyd's death

Catholic pontiff and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis, on Tuesday, updated the Church's criminal code, adding directives on punishing sexual abuse crimes of minors by priests that have long been sought by activists against child molesters.

Following repeated complaints by victims of sexual abuse and others that the code's previous wording was outdated and devoid of transparency, the Church decided to revise the penal sanctions within the Code of Canon Law.

This involved input from the canonist and criminal law experts.

The purpose of the revision as written by Pope Francis in introducing the changes is "restoration of justice, the reform of the offender, and the repair of scandal."

Since becoming pope in 2013, the Argentine pontiff has striven to tackle the decades-long sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests around the globe, though many activists agitating against paedophilia insist much more needs to be done.

The pontiff convened an unprecedented summit on clerical sex abuse in 2019 while lifting secrecy rules that hindered investigations of abusing priests, among other measures.

The new code falls short of explicitly spelling out sexual offences against minors yet refers to offences against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery.

A priest is to be stripped of his office and punished "with other just penalties" if he commits such offences with a minor, the new code says.

Similarly, a priest who grooms or induces a minor "to expose himself or herself pornographically or to take part in pornographic exhibitions" will be similarly punished.

– Need for justice –

One aim of the revision, wrote Francis, was to reduce the number of penalties left to the discretion of judges, especially in the most serious cases.

"The new text introduces various modifications to the law in force and sanctions some new criminal offences, which respond to the increasingly widespread need in the various communities to see justice and order reestablished that the crime has shattered," he wrote.

Other technical improvements related to "the right of defence, the statute of limitations for criminal action, a more precise determination of penalties," added Francis.

The changes will take effect in December.

Despite recent measures to root out abuse by priests and increase transparency, some victims say the Vatican still has not gone far enough to protect children even in the West, where intense media coverage of paedophile priests has led to greater scrutiny of church practices.