Speed Reads

Francis Fights Back

Pope Francis updates sex abuse laws for Catholic Church

The Vatican and Pope Francis unveiled a new slate of legislation on Saturday that updates existing rules within the Catholic Church to penalize coverups of sexual abuse and hold perpetrators responsible. 

The new legislation, laid out in a letter by Francis, allows senior clergymen to be held accountable for dismissing any sexual abuse within their dioceses. These updated guidelines extend penalties to lay leaders who cover up abuse for the first time, and additionally reaffirm that non-consenting adults can also be victims of abuse.

"Crimes of sexual abuse...cause physical, psychological, and spiritual harm to the victims and harm the community of the faithful," Francis wrote in the letter translated from Italian. Francis added that "a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church," in order to stop the ongoing cycle of abuse

The updated guidelines to hold senior clergymen responsible is "the most significant change introduced in the new version of the normative text," Vatican News reported, and are slated to go into effect on April 30. 

The original legislation was penned in 2019 after Francis signed a law requiring all Catholic dioceses to create a "public, stable, and easily accessible" process for reporting and stopping sexual abuse. Later that year, Francis also ended a prior "pontifical secrecy" rule within the Church that The Guardian noted "forbid imposing an obligation of silence on those who report sexual abuse or allege they have been a victim."

However, even with these new guidelines in place, there are still some shortcomings when it comes to full protection for abuse victims. The new laws do not mandate reporting of abuse by lay leaders themselves, nor do they require abuse to be reported to law enforcement, The Associated Press reported.