(Vatican City) The Vatican on Saturday published an amendment to canon law on combating sexual assault in the Church by extending criminal liability to lay people leading associations recognized by the Holy See.
In a “motu proprio” — a letter issued directly by the pope that modifies the internal legislation of the universal Church (canon law) — published in May 2019, Francis required religious to report any suspicion of sexual assault to their hierarchy. .
Titled You Are the Light of the World, the text also made it mandatory to report any attempt by the Catholic hierarchy to cover up sexual abuse perpetrated by a priest or cleric.
Its amended version, officially promulgated on Saturday, which will come into force on April 30, confirms and reinforces the provisions announced in 2019.
The “motu proprio” provides that if religious (bishops, priests, clerics) are responsible for reprehensible acts committed within the institutions for which they are responsible, the “animators of international associations of the faithful recognized or created by the Apostolic See”, in other words, the laity are too.
The 2019 text also placed particular emphasis on “minors” and “vulnerable persons” and recalled that it is prohibited to produce, possess and share “child pornography material”. The 2023 version expands the definition of victims by punishing any act of aggression committed on “a minor, or a person who exhibits an imperfect use of reason, or a vulnerable adult”.
The papal text summons all the dioceses of the world to set up a system allowing the public to report cases of aggression. And he details the progress of the internal investigations transmitted to the Vatican for a possible trial.
But the secrecy of confession remains absolute: a priest can therefore still not report facts mentioned by a faithful in the confessional.