Pope Francis updated the Catholic Church’s rules on sexual abuse on Saturday, reaffirming that adults can also be victims.
The decree, “Vos estis lux mundi (You are the light of the world),” is Francis’ landmark legislation designed to help the church prevent and counter sexual abuse. It was temporarily released in May 2019.
After nearly four years of consultation with bishops and Vatican officials, Francis issued an updated version of the decree, reaffirming the “Church’s desire to continue fighting against crimes of sexual abuse”, according to Vatican News.
The updated legislation, aimed at holding church officials accountable for covering up cases of sexual abuse, was published on Saturday and will take effect on April 30.
One notable change is the inclusion of “vulnerable” adults in the text.
In recent years, several cases of sexual abuse have come to light involving leaders who have abused their authority to exploit the people under their spiritual care.
According to the definition of the term, now a victim can be “any person in a state of illness, physical or mental deficiency or deprivation of personal liberty that, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or want or otherwise resist the offense.”
“This can be read as yet another manifestation of how the church cares for the most fragile and weak,” said Archbishop Filippo Iannone, prefect of the Vatican’s legal office. “Anyone can be a victim, so there has to be justice. And if the victims are like that (vulnerable adults), then we must intervene to defend their dignity and freedom.
The rule places all alleged victims of sexual abuse in the same category, regardless of age. That includes religious women, such as nuns or adult seminarians, who report to their superiors.
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The law also reaffirms the obligation of church leaders to report any cases of “vulnerable” adult victims of abuse, and offers protection for witnesses of abuse, noting that no “obligation of silence” can be imposed on victims. or witnesses to alleged crimes.
The updated version also requires dioceses to have an “organization or office” to report cases of sexual abuse.
Francis promulgated the regulations in 2019 in response to an elaborate cover-up of sexual abuse by former US Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick was appointed Archbishop of Washington, DC in 2000 by the late Pope John Paul II. He was expelled nearly two decades after a Vatican investigation confirmed that he had abused both adults and children.
In November 2020, an explosive 449-page report found that Saint John Paul II knew of the sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick years before he was removed from the priesthood.
Last month, a Polish television investigation found that John Paul also knew about, and tried to cover up, allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests when he was archbishop in his native Poland.
with cable news services