The Pope has updated the church’s rules for dealing with sexual abuse, expanding its scope to include lay Catholic leaders and spelling out that both minors and adults can be victims.
It follows a landmark decree in 2019 that made it obligatory for all priests and members of religious orders to report any suspicions of abuse. It also holds bishops directly accountable for any abuse they commit themselves or cover-up.
The provisions were initially introduced on a temporary basis, but on Saturday the Vatican said they would become definitive from April 30 and include additional elements aimed at strengthening the fight against abuse within the church.
Abuse scandals have shredded the Vatican’s reputation in the last ten years, and Pope Francis has passed a series of measures aimed at holding the institution’s hierarchy accountable.
But he himself came under huge scrutiny in 2018 after the global church sex abuse scandal made headlines again, and was even accused of having known about certain allegations and helping to cover them up.
Speaking in 2019, he vowed to confront the “destructive evil” of child sex abuse within the Catholic church.
But critics say the results have been mixed and have accused Francis of being reluctant to defrock abusive prelates.
Fresh allegations of sexual abuse
Just a month ago the Roman Catholic religious order of Jesuits said accusations of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse against one of its most prominent members were “highly credible”.
About 25 people, mostly former nuns, have accused Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, 69, a well-known religious artist of various forms of abuse, either when he was a spiritual director of a community of nuns in his native Slovenia about 30 years ago, or after he moved to Rome to pursue his career as an artist.
Rupnik has not spoken publicly of the accusations.
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Whereas the original rules covered sexual acts targeting “minors and vulnerable persons”, the new version provides a wider definition of victims, referring to crimes committed “with a minor or with a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason or with a vulnerable adult”.
The Vatican said Church members had an obligation to report cases of violence against religious women by clerics, as well as cases of harassment of adult seminarians or novices.