Pope, UN crack down on church child abuse

Pope Francis has strengthened church laws against child abuse, while a UN committee investigates the Vatican's handling of abuse allegations.

Gregorio Borgia/AP
Pope Francis holds the pastoral staff at the end of a mass during his visit to the island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Monday.

Vatican officials announced Thursday that Pope Francis has bolstered legislation against child abuse within the grounds of the small city-state. At the same time, a United Nations committee has demanded that the church reveal its procedures for dealing with child abuse allegations.

Though child abuse is already designated as a criminal act, the pope has moved to strengthen Vatican law, making it illegal to sexually or physically abuse children specifically within the Vatican City limits, according to CNN. Hundreds of people live in the Vatican, while millions visit every year. The new law will also broaden the definition of child abuse to include child prostitution and child pornography.

The legal changes were issued in Pope Francis’s first “Moto Proprio” – a directive the pope launches himself, writes Reuters. The pope also announced his intention to increase the Vatican’s support of international laws against crimes such as money laundering and terrorism.  

The laws comes as part of an overall reform process started under Pope Benedict XVI and prompted by scandals revealing corruption and ineptitude in the Vatican bureaucracy, reports Agence France-Presse.

The pope's reform "extends the reach of the legislation contained in these criminal laws to the members, officials and employees of the various bodies of the Roman Curia," the central body of the Catholic Church, Mamberti said.

"This extension has the aim of making the crimes included in these laws indictable by the judicial organs of Vatican City State even when committed outside the borders of the state," he said.

When Pope Francis was elected in March, the church was beset by accusations of covering up child sex-abuse cases. Pope Benedict came under harsh criticism for his perceived lack of action against pedophilia among clergy.

As a result of these allegations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has requested information on how the Vatican handles children’s rights abuses globally, including sexual abuse cases, reports the Globe and Mail. The CRC monitors adherence to the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Vatican has both signed and ratified.

The demands include confidential information on church investigations into child-abuse cases and mark the first time that the Vatican has been probed by an international body.

Highlighted on the “List of Issues” presented to the Holy See by the CRC is the question of what steps have been taken to prevent clergy accused of sexual abuse from contacting their alleged victims, writes the Washington Post. The Vatican is also being asked to answer questions regarding the purported transferring of clergy members accused of abuse.

The questioning comes in advance of the Vatican’s scheduled meeting with the committee in January 2014.

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