It was an addition long claimed by victims of priests. This Tuesday, the Catholic Church included in its internal legislative code an explicit article on pedophile crimes. The Vatican has presented a fairly profound overhaul of one of the seven books of its 1983 “canon law”, which contains the criminal sanctions of the Catholic Church, changes which will come into force in December.
Until now, canon law provided for punishing sexual abuse committed by the clergy against minors under the simple title of non-compliance with the sixth commandment of the Bible (“you shall not commit adultery”). However, this formulation based on non-respect for celibacy was denounced as obsolete or even obscure in terms of civil justice, in view of the avalanche of pedophilia scandals unveiled in recent years within the Church.
The penalty can go as far as dismissal from the Church
The new legal clarity brought to the serious question of sexual crimes against minors stands out as one of the key novelties of the reshuffle undertaken by the Vatican. In a section entitled “offenses against human life, dignity and freedom”, canon law now includes “an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue with a minor or a person habitually affected by an imperfect use of reason or with a person to whom the law recognizes similar protection ”.
Anyone who leads a minor to “participate in pornographic exhibitions” or who keeps child pornographic images will also be punished, a penalty that may go as far as dismissal from the Church.
The importance of a clear definition of sexual assault
Before an unprecedented summit, convened by the Pope in February 2019, in the presence of 114 presidents of episcopates from all continents to fight against the sexual assault of minors by members of the clergy, the victims had drawn up a long list of demands.
“A clear definition” of the sexual assault on a minor is necessary to help the leaders of the Church and not a “vague canon law speaking of” offenses against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue “” had notably pleaded Marie Collins, a victim Irish woman who sat on the Vatican’s anti-pedophilia commission before resigning with a bang in 2017.