The Vatican updated the criminal section of its Code of Canon Law Tuesday, changing Catholic Church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority. Laypersons who hold church office can similarly be sanctioned for sex crimes.
The Code of Canon Law regulates the 1.3 billion-member Catholic Church. It operates independently from secular law, and it was last updated in 1983. The changes added Tuesday took 11 years to develop.
The update penalizes criminal offenses that have never been penalized before in the Code of Canon Law. The law recognizes that adults, as well as children, can be sexually abused by priests abusing their authority, making threats, or using force. Laypersons working within the church can also be punished for sexual misconduct.
According to Pope Francis, there was “an obvious need to revise the penal legislation” because of “rapid social changes.” On the penal law, he wrote: “Indeed, it is love that requires that shepherds apply the penal system whenever necessary, observing the three purposes that make it necessary, namely restoring the needs of justice, correcting the offender, and the elimination of annoyances.”
The new law will take effect on December 8, and it will be published in L’Osservatore Romano.