Pope Francis attends an audience with participants of a course on the Internal Forum promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary Court, in the Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope demands sex abuse claims be reported in Vatican City

The Vatican’s ambassadors have figured in some of the most scandalous cases of sex abuse in recent years

Pope Francis on Friday issued sweeping new sex abuse legislation for Vatican personnel and Holy See diplomats that requires the immediate reporting of abuse allegations to Vatican prosecutors, a policy shift aimed at being a model for the Catholic Church worldwide.

The mandatory reporting provision, while limited in scope, marks the first time the Vatican has put into law requirements for Catholic officials to report allegations of sex crimes to police or face fines and possible jail time.

Francis also issued child protection guidelines for Vatican City State and its youth seminary, acting after the global sex abuse scandal exploded anew last year and The Associated Press reported that the headquarters of the Catholic Church had no policy to protect children from predator priests.

While the new norms only cover Vatican City State, affiliated institutions and the diplomatic corps, they were still symbolically significant and were welcomed by a former seminarian whose case helped spark the reform.

“I see this as something positive,” Kamil Jarzembowski told the AP.

The law for the first time provides an explicit Vatican definition for “vulnerable people” who are entitled to the same protections as minors under church law. The Vatican amended its canon law covering sex abuse to include “vulnerable adults” several years ago, but never defined it.

According to the new Vatican definition, a vulnerable person is anyone who is sick or suffering from a physical or psychiatric deficiency, isn’t able to exercise personal freedom even on occasion and has a limited capacity to understand or resist the crime.

The issue of whether adult seminarians, religious sisters or other adults who are emotionally or financially dependent on clergy can be considered “vulnerable people” has come to the fore in the wake of the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a once high-ranking American cleric accused of molesting seminarians, and revelations of priests and bishops sexually preying on nuns.

READ MORE: Vatican clarifies pope on issue of ‘sexual slavery’ of nuns

The new law covers all personnel who live and work in the Vatican, the 44-hectare (110-acre) city state in the centre of Rome, as well as the Holy See’s vast diplomatic corps in embassies around the world.

The Vatican’s ambassadors have figured in some of the most scandalous cases of sex abuse in recent years, with papal representatives accused of groping, distributing child pornography and sexually abusing minors in their far-flung posts.

The law now requires any Vatican public official who learns of an allegation of abuse to report it to Vatican prosecutors “without delay.” Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to 5,000 euros ($5,615) or, in the case of a Vatican gendarme, up to six months of prison.

The legislation requires that victims be welcomed, listened to and provided with medical, psychological and legal assistance, and sets the statute of limitations at 20 years past the victim’s 18th birthday. They must be kept apprised of the investigation.

Victims and their families are to be protected from any retaliation, answering longstanding problem faced by victims, including Jarzembowski, who reported abuse at the Vatican youth seminary only to be kicked out the following year.

Mimicking some provisions in place in the U.S. church, the provisions require background checks for Vatican staff and volunteers working with minors and calls for safe environment training for all Vatican personnel.

The accused is to be removed from their job pending the investigation, and be allowed to defend themselves.

In a statement accompanying the new law, the Vatican’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, said while very few children actually live in the Vatican City State, Francis decided to make the legislation and accompanying guidelines a model.

Last year, AP reported that Vatican City had no policy to protect children or require suspected abuse to be reported to police, even though the Holy See required such policies in Catholic dioceses around the globe and had told the U.N. in 2013 that such a policy was in the works.

The absence of clear-cut policy became evident following revelations that Jarzembowski, then a teenage seminarian in the Vatican’s youth seminary had, in 2012, accused one of the older boys of sexually molesting his roommate.

Nothing came of it. Vatican police, who have jurisdiction over the territory, weren’t called in to investigate. A series of bishops — including Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Francis’ vicar for Rome and the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica — said they investigated, but no one ever interviewed the alleged victim.

Jarzembowski was promptly kicked out of the seminary while the accused seminarian was ordained as a priest.

On Friday, Jarzembowski told AP the law was a positive step forward, particularly its explicit recognition that the pre-seminary falls under its jurisdiction.

“Before there was a situation where a group of kids were there, in the Vatican City State, but they were seemingly in a legal limbo,” he said.

He praised the mandatory reporting requirement, noting that all survivor advocacy groups “the first thing that they do is say there must be the obligation to report to public authorities.”

Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Golden Dollar Store celebrates 20 years

Opening its doors in December 1993, the store will spend 2020 celebrating 20 years of business

Kicking Horse Update, Tuesday February 18

Kicking Horse reports no new snow in the last 24 hours. The… Continue reading

Golden Highway Update, Tuesday February 18

When travelling along Highway 1 this morning, watch for slippery sections between… Continue reading

First presumptive case of coronavirus identified in the Interior Health region

The woman, in her 30s, travelled from Shanghai and lives in the interior

Two injured in semi truck incident on Trans Canada Highway Feb. 13

One was pinned between a semi and a plow when another semi hit the wreckage

Protesters barricade Premier John Horgan’s home ahead of B.C. budget unveiling

Demonstrators from the Extinction Rebellion have blocked the Langford driveway

Budget 2020: Not much new for B.C.’s struggling forest industry

Focus on wood waste utilization, efficiency, ministry budget cut

Skull reconstruction gives new insight into unknown man found in B.C. cemetery

RCMP released a 3-D skull reconstruction of a man who was found dead on July 2, 1998

Forest industry supporters and convoy arrive at B.C. legislature in Victoria

Rally delivers petition in favour of ‘working forests’

Ten poisoned eagles rushed to veterinary hospital in Nanaimo

Eagles stricken after eating flesh of euthanized animal at Nanaimo Regional Landfill

What’s in a name? The story of Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie

It’s likely the iconic peak had several Indigenous peoples’ names before settlers arrived

Trudeau says Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades a critical moment for country

First Nations leaders suggest it may be time to peacefully end the blockades

B.C. budtenders become first private cannabis workers to unionize in Canada

Two of seven Clarity Cannabis storefronts vote to join UFCW 1518 union

Kids exposed to household cleaners as newborns more likely to get asthma: B.C. study

Air fresheners, plug-in deodorizers, antimicrobial hand sanitizers and oven cleaners were the worst culprits

Most Read