By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The Vatican on Tuesday unveiled an updated version of the Catholic Church’s penal code to reflect scandals over clerical sex abuse and financial corruption that have shaken the church in recent years, expanding the types of offenses as well as potential culprits and victims.
The new penal code broadens the categories of persons who can be punished for sex abuse to include laypeople and nuns, but doesn’t provide for the automatic defrocking of abusive priests as some campaigners have demanded.
Though mostly a collection of legislation established by popes over the past three decades, it places greater emphasis than the previous code, published in 1983, on the obligation to enforce penalties, stating that bishops are required to take punitive action when warnings or other measures are inadequate to do justice or reform the guilty.
In a decree instituting the revisions, Pope Francis wrote that charity and discipline are intimately related and that the proper remedy for immoral behavior “is not only exhortations or suggestions.”
The revised code reclassifies the sexual abuse of minors by clergy among “crimes against the life, dignity and freedom of man,” rather than violations of the “special obligations” of clergy, as stated in the 1983 code.
The new classification means that the law will also cover abuse committed by lay church employees and members of religious orders who are not priests.
The classification covers not only abuse of a minor but also of a vulnerable adult. Another novelty in the new code is a prohibition of grooming minors or vulnerable adults to take part in making pornography.
Advocates for sex-abuse victims have long demanded that the church define abuse as a crime against children, rather than a violation of priestly celibacy.
But critics are likely to be unsatisfied with the revised language, which still describes abuse as “an offense against the sixth commandment,” which prohibits adultery.
“Describing child sexual abuse as the canonical crime of ‘adultery’ is wrong and minimizes the criminal nature of abuse inflicted on child victims. A canonical crime relating to child sexual abuse should be clearly identified as a crime against the child,” said a report published last November by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, sponsored by the U.K. government.
In March, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales asked the Vatican to rewrite the law to remove the reference to the sixth commandment.
Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told reporters on Tuesday that removing that reference would have been a departure from tradition and could have caused confusion about the meaning of the law.
Scandals over clerical sex abuse have been a crisis for the Catholic Church for the past two decades. In 2019, Pope Francis enacted new rules to make bishops more accountable for abuse and its coverup by facilitating allegations by the public. But critics say the process lacks the crucial element of oversight by laypeople.