Pope Francis recently enacted a law making sexual and physical abuse of children on Vatican grounds illegal, secularly codifying what has long been prohibited by the church, according to CNN.
“Under the changes, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, child prostitution and child pornography are cited in a broader definition of crimes against minors and punishable by up to 12 years in prison," reported Reuters, citing a Vatican document.
While the law only directly applies to the hundreds of people living in the Vatican city-state, Radio Vatican noted the law is intended to have a wide-reaching message. However, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a United States-based advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse from priests and clergy, dismissed the law as “a feel-good gesture.”
"For the Vatican's image, this is a successful move. For children's safety, this is another setback ... because it will help foster the false impression of reform and will lead to more complacency," wrote SNAP director David Clohessy in a statement. "The church hierarchy doesn't need new rules on abuse. It needs to follow long-established secular laws on abuse. And it needs to push for, not oppose, real reforms to archaic, predator-friendly secular laws (like the statute of limitations)."
As Reuters reported, “Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict in March, inherited a Church struggling to restore its credibility after a spate of scandals including the molestation of children by priests in a number of countries and an investigation into suspected money-laundering at the Vatican's bank.
“The legal changes apply only within the Vatican City state but are meant to demonstrate that Francis is taking the various scandals seriously and aims to align Church policy with international legal standards.”