The Vatican prosecutor for sex abuse cases has presented the new Church rules to combat sex abuse and to judge priests who have committed crimes more quickly.

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s
Promoter of Justice, said at a press conference:
“I think it gives the signal that we are very very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse.”

The new Vatican rules against sex abuse are a set of processes and sanctions exclusively internal to the Church. The rules are not intended to replace state laws, which the Vatican insists must be respected as well.

“If state law requires reporting, we must absolutely obey. No excuses. If the law allows the victim to decide whether to report or not, we must respect the legislature’s decision,” said Msgr Scicluna.

The new Vatican text is an update to the Apostolic Letter Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela concerning serious crimes against morality and the sacraments. The majority of the new Vatican norms convert prior provisions into law.

From now on, the Church will proceed internally against an accused priest up to 20 years after the victim’s 18th birthday; the previous statute was 10 years after the victim turned 18. The Church also reserves the right to further extend the period in exceptional cases. The statute for criminal law varies, but the Church can still sanction an accused priest even after the civil period has passed. In severe cases the accused likely will be expelled from the priesthood.

The text includes several new changes. Possession of child pornography, abuse of mentally disabled adults and the recording of confessions using new technologies are all now considered “serious offenses.” Laity may now be judges or lawyers in these processes.

Internal sanctions against accused priests can range from a ban on appearing in public as a priest or celebrating Mass to expulsion from the priesthood in serious cases.

Another important change now makes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsible for trying cardinals, patriarchs and bishops for these offenses.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet