The Holy Father on 29 March introduced new laws for the protection of minors within the Vatican City. This concerns the policing, reporting, judicial and penal conduct of the City State and its officials. It is not a change in Canon Law.
The law introduces several significant changes, among them:
- Crimes against minors and vulnerable persons are now subject to “official” prosecution, i.e. the presumed victim need not lodge any formal complaint against the accused before the Vatican City prosecutor brings charges.
- “Vulnerable persons” is given legal definition: “Every person is vulnerable, who is in a state of infirmity, of physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty, who in fact, even occasionally, is limited in the capacity to understand and will, or to resist the offense”.
- Vatican City and Curial officials are now obliged to report crimes or suspicions of crimes against minors and vulnerable adults to Vatican City authorities. This obligation is without prejudice to the seal of Confession, but applies to all other circumstances.
- The Vicar for Vatican City is obliged to report to the chief prosecutor any and all word of abuse that is not “manifestly unfounded”.
- The new law regarding the obligation to report also applies not only to the physical territory of Vatican City and anyone in it, but to all officials and functionaries of Vatican City and the Holy See, wherever they are — e.g. diplomatic personnel and other employees in extraterritorial spaces.
- The statute of limitations on the prosecution of such crimes is now twenty years from the victim’s 18th birthday.
- There will be screening of candidates for employment in Vatican City and the Roman Curia.
- Vatican City will create a support system for victims, outside the judicial and penal structures, to care for their medical, spiritual, and psychological well-being, as well as to advise victims of their rights and assist in their vindication.
The new norms regulate the general conduct with minors and general caution, that is, anyone working with minors should always be visible to others; must report any dangerous behaviour; never have direct communications with minors via phone, email, or social media without parents’ express consent. They also forbid asking a child to keep a secret, filming or photographing a child without parents’ express written consent, and using corporal discipline.
The new measures provide that anyone found guilty of abuse will be removed from post and any pastoral activities within the Vatican City Vicariate., but they do not specify precisely what will happen before a guilty verdict is pronounced.
There are provisions for the protection of victims and their families from retaliation, but nothing specific regarding protection for those with duty to report or who denounce failures in the system.
The Director of the Dicastery for Communication, Andrea Tornielli, commented, “The step taken by Pope Francis is therefore clear and unequivocal: ‘The protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the Gospel message that the Church and all its members are called to spread throughout the world’.”