Pope Francis issues 'most significant revision' to Catholic Church law on sexual abuse since code was approved in 1983

Pope Francis.
(Image credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Vatican on Tuesday announced changes to its Code of Canon Law as the Catholic Church continues to "address gaps in its response to" its decades-long sexual abuse scandal, The New York Times reports. The Tablet's Christopher Lamb called Pope Francis' revision "the most significant ... since the current code was approved in 1983" by Pope John Paul II.

The update does include a few rules that were already in effect, but others are appearing for the first time, or have been extended, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts told Vatican News. "For example, the offense of abuse of minors or violence is applied not only with regard to clerics but also in relation to religious and lay people who carry out some kind of office or function in the Church," he said.

The code also now explicitly acknowledges adults, and not only children, can be considered victims of sexual abuse by priests and powerful lay officials. And, for the first time, an article officially criminalizes the practice of "grooming" — the term given to the practice, often used by sexual predators, of building relationships with children to exploit them. Now, says the Times, the law states that a cleric should be removed from office and face other "just penalties" if he "grooms or induces a minor or a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason" to engage in pornography "whether real or simulated." Read more at The New York Times.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.