Pope Francis Issues Law Requiring Vatican City Officials To Report Abuse Allegations

Law requires officials in Vatican City and international embassies to report to prosecutors.

Pope Francis speaks in St. Peter's Square.
Giulio Origlia / Getty Images

Law requires officials in Vatican City and international embassies to report to prosecutors.

Pope Francis has issued a new edict mandating that Vatican City officials and overseas personnel report any allegations of sexual abuse to Vatican prosecutors, according to The New York Times and NPR.

The law, classified as a Motu Propio and dated March 26, requires that any Vatican City officials and church authorities listen to those accusing clergy members of sexual abuse and forward the allegations to authorities. Along with removal from their position and other canon law penalties, officials found guilty of not reporting an allegation will also be subject to financial penalties and possible jail time.

Francis took an emphatic tone throughout the decree, emphasizing the Church’s duty to protect minors from abuse (per the Vatican website, translation from NPR).

“The protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the gospel message that the Church and all its members are called to spread throughout the world. We all have the duty to generously welcome minors and vulnerable people and to create a safe environment for them, taking their interests first.”

Crucially, the law will only apply to those under the jurisdiction of the Vatican City state — while church diplomats and officials serving in Vatican City or in its international embassies are covered, international priests, bishops, and congregations are not.

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna explained the context of the recent decrees in an interview with Vatican News. The documents “essentially are laws and two of them are laws issued by the Holy Father as sovereign of Vatican City State.” He continues to explain that the third consists of “guidelines for the pastoral care of minors within the territory of the Vatican City State.”

Archbishop Scicluna also emphasized that the edicts “are not intended to be for the rest of the world, they actually contemplate the concrete situation of Vatican City State; a number of minors, who either live there, work there, or visit… always within its jurisdiction.”

While the new legislation applies mostly to those within the Holy See itself, the Vatican characterized the proclamation as an effort to model guidelines for the worldwide Church.

Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli said to Vatican News that the new standards “contain exemplary indications that take into account the most advanced international parameters,” but that they will actually affect “very few children” — the ultimate purpose of the edict, she maintained, was to set an example for worldwide bishops to emulate and hopefully to spur similar legislation in their own communities.

The new documents also included requirements for background checks and abuse prevention training, along with protections for whistleblowers revealing abuse. Under the policy, “the person convicted [of] having abused a child or a vulnerable person is removed from his duties,” yet also “offered adequate support for psychological and spiritual rehabilitation.”