New Vatican law criminalizes sexual abuse by priests and church officials

General audience of Pope Francis with the presence of a small group of faithful in masks after the long pause due to the coronavirus pandemic in the Cortile San Damaso. Vatican City (Vatican), May 26th, 2021.
Grzegorz Galazka | Mondadori Portfolio | Getty Images

Pope Francis has changed church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority and to say that laypeople who hold church office can be sanctioned for similar sex crimes.

The new provisions, released Tuesday after 14 years of study, were contained in the revised criminal law section of the Vatican's Code of Canon Law, the in-house legal system that covers the 1.3-billion strong Catholic Church.

The most significant changes are contained in two articles, 1395 and 1398, which aim to address major problems and shortcomings in the church's handling of sexual abuse. The law recognizes that adults, too, can be victimized by priests who abuse their authority, and said that laypeople in church offices can be punished for abusing minors as well as adults.