Pope Francis approves new law to protect minors and vulnerable adults

Pope Francis has approved a new law to make it compulsory to report sexual abuse allegations in the Vatican and its diplomatic missions around the world. The safeguarding guidelines for the Vatican and Roman Curia aim to protect minors and vulnerable adults.

An apostolic letter written by Pope Francis moto proprio (on his own initiative) detailed these new procedures.

Because the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people is an integral part of the Gospel message, “I wish, therefore, to further strengthen the institutional and normative order to prevent and fight abuses against minors and vulnerable adults,” the Pope wrote.

The law and guidelines have been created, he wrote, “so that in the Roman Curia and in Vatican City State” there will be, among other things: respect and awareness of the rights and needs of minors and vulnerable adults; greater vigilance, prevention and corrective action when abuse or mistreatment is suspected or reported; clearer procedures as well as specific offices for making claims; support services and protections for alleged victims, their families and those accused; and adequate formation for and background checks of new personnel including volunteers.”

The new law On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons will go into effect on 1 June. It builds on a major set of criminal laws for Vatican City State the Pope approved in 2013.

The new law will now cover all forms of physical and emotional abuse — not just sexual violence through coercion — as well as serious forms of mistreatment, neglect, abandonment and exploitation against minors, who are below the age of 18, and vulnerable adults.

According to Catholic News Service, the new law also outlines:

  • the legal rights, specific protections and support services available to the alleged victim and family;
  • the Vatican tribunal’s obligations in protecting the alleged victim from the suspect, from a repeat of the crime and from “intimidation and retaliation”;
  • how the investigation and trial should be conducted so that it is fair, unbiased, maintains a presumption of innocence for the accused and respects the dignity and psychological state of the alleged victim;
  • the creation of a special office within the Vatican’s healthcare service that will offer victim assistance, starting with a “listening service” and including psychological, medical and social support;
  • the availability of information and programs to educate all Vatican staff, minors and families about abuse, how to identify it, better prevent it and the obligation to report it;
  • the obligation to do a background check and exercise more vigilance in the selection and hiring of personnel and volunteers.

The guidelines include prohibiting corporal punishment; photographing, filming or contacting a minor by phone, online or through social media without written parental consent; being alone or out of sight of others when with a minor or vulnerable adult; and showing favouritism to one child with gifts.


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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle