Pope's move on sexual abuse law dismissed as 'tinkering'
Pope Francis has toughened up the Vatican city state's laws on child sex abuse, in the latest demonstration of his determination to overhaul the Holy See after years of damaging intrigue and scandal.
But the measures were dismissed by anti-abuse campaigners as little more than administrative tinkering because they applied only to the tiny city state and would have no impact in protecting children in the rest of the world from predatory priests.
The new laws about the sexual abuse of minors came just two days after the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child demanded that the Vatican divulge documents about its treatment of abuse victims around the world and its leniency towards predatory priests.
The new laws represented "a broader definition of the category of crimes against minors, including the sale of children, child prostitution, the recruitment of children, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, and the production and possession of child pornography," the Vatican said.
Those crimes can now be punished with prison sentences of up to 12 years – a slightly heavier penalty than under the previous legal code.
The laws, applicable from September 1, will apply only to people working or living in Vatican City. They did not impress former victims of clerical sex abuse. "For the Vatican's image, this is a successful move. For children's safety, this is another setback," said David Clohessy, director of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP.
"In the real world, this changes virtually nothing. It's is precisely the kind of 'feelgood' gesture that Vatican officials have long specialised in: tweaking often-ignored and ineffective internal church abuse guidelines to generate positive headlines but nothing more.
"The church hierarchy doesn't need new rules on abuse. It needs to follow long-established secular laws. Church officials, starting with Pope Francis, need to actually punish those who conceal and enable abuse, which they have ample power to do but inadequate courage to do."
Sacking a bishop who had protected one or more abusive priests "would do far more to protect kids and deter cover-ups than this small change to a rule that's likely never been, and never will be, used".
The Pope also beefed up penalties for any Vatican official caught stealing or leaking official documents, a year after then-Pope Benedict XVI's butler was arrested, convicted and jailed for taking confidential papers from his offices.
Reflecting the gravity with which the Vatican viewed the 'Vatileaks' affair, the new penalties are severe. A person who reveals or receives confidential documents can be jailed for six months to two years.
If the stolen or leaked material concerns the "fundamental interests" or security of the Holy See, they can be imprisoned for eight years.
Pope Francis – who was elected in March – also boosted co-operation with other countries against money-laundering, as the Vatican struggles to contain one such scandal involving its own bank – known as the Institute for the Works of Religion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)