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Pope Francis lays down the law on child sex abuse on Vatican grounds

Pope Francis on a recent trip to Lampedusa island in Italy on July 8, 2013.

Story highlights

  • Abuse victims advocacy group dismisses the law as a "feel good gesture"
  • Any form of child pornography is also forbidden under pope's new initiative
  • The new laws include other measures to ensure humane behavior by church officials
  • They are part of an update to the Vatican's legal system started by Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Francis has laid down a law making it a crime to abuse children sexually or physically on Vatican grounds, the Holy See announced Thursday.

The acts were already crimes under church law, but are now specifically outlawed within the Vatican city-state, which is home to hundreds of people.

The legislation also covers child prostitution and the creation or possession of child pornography.

But it has a "broader scope," according to Radio Vatican.

It adds provisions of international laws against war crimes, racial discrimination and humiliating treatment or punishment to the Vatican's legal system.

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It includes wording from the Geneva Conventions.

    Francis issued the new laws as a "moto proprio," meaning that the document was his own initiative, Vatican Radio said.

    The new criminal laws are part of an ongoing update of the Vatican's legal system, which began under Pope Benedict XVI.

    The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a U.S. advocacy group for victims of abuse by priests and other clergy, dismissed the law as "a feel good gesture."

    "For the Vatican's image, this is a successful move. For children's safety, this is another setback ... because it will help foster the false impression of reform and will lead to more complacency," said SNAP director David Clohessy in a written statement. "The church hierarchy doesn't need new rules on abuse. It needs to follow long-established secular laws on abuse. And it needs to push for, not oppose, real reforms to archaic, predator-friendly secular laws (like the statute of limitations)."

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