On Punishments for Church Sex Abuse, a 'Significant Rewrite'

Pope Francis signs off on first major update to penal sanctions since 1980s
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2021 9:30 AM CDT
On Punishments for Church Sex Abuse, a 'Significant Rewrite'
Pope Francis arrives to lead a prayer in the Vatican gardens on Monday.   (Filippo Monteforte/Pool photo via AP)

A slew of new rules on how to handle sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has received the official green light from Pope Francis, updating a penal system that's been in place for 40 years. The Washington Post calls it "the most significant rewrite of canon law" since Pope John Paul II helmed the Vatican, giving officials there and in individual churches a clearer new blueprint for dealing with sexual abuse, particularly in cases involving minors. According to the revised Code of Canon Law, which was updated in response to the abuse and financial scandals that have rocked the church, clerics who abuse minors or others will suffer "deprivation from office," including possible defrocking. The New York Times notes adults are now also protected by these expanded rules, "[reflecting] a new appreciation in the church ... that power dynamics are a key factor in abuse."

Nuns and laypeople may be punished for sexual abuse as well, and grooming minors or vulnerable adults to participate in pornography has also now been criminalized under the revised code, reports the Wall Street Journal. Other changes to the penal code include the banning of recorded confessions, as well as automatic excommunication of anyone who's involved in the attempted ordination of a woman, reports the Journal. Critics are still unhappy that the revisions don't include automatic defrocking in cases of sexual abuse, and they insist that such incidents should immediately be handed off to civil authorities, not handled in-house. In the eyes of the church, however, the revised rules "respond to the ever more widespread need in the various communities to see the reestablishment of justice and order broken by the crime," as Pope Francis noted last month, per the Times. The new code will take effect on Dec. 8. (More priest sex abuse stories.)

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