Pope Criminalizes Leaks, Sex Abuse in First Laws
Pope Francis overhauled the laws that govern the Vatican City State on Thursday, criminalizing leaks of Vatican information and specifically listing sexual violence, prostitution and possession of child pornography as crimes against children that can be punished by up to 12 years in prison.
The legislation covers clergy and lay people who live and work in Vatican City and is different from the canon law which covers the universal Catholic Church.
It was issued at a critical time, as the Vatican gears up for a grilling by a U.N. committee on its efforts to protect children under a key U.N. convention and prevent priests from sexually abusing them. The Vatican signed and ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 yet only now - 23 years later - has it updated its legislation to reflect some of the treaty’s core provisions.
The bulk of the Vatican’s penal code is based on the 1889 Italian code, and in many ways is outdated. Much of the hodge-podge of laws passed Thursday - which range from listing crimes against humanity to the illicit appropriation of nuclear material - bring the Vatican up to date with the many U.N. conventions it has signed over the years.
Others were necessary to comply with international norms to fight money-laundering, part of the Vatican’s more recent push toward financial transparency. And still others were designed to update the Vatican’s legal system with contemporary practice: The new law cancels out lifetime prison sentences, for example, and instead imposes maximum sentences of 30-35 years in prison.
One new crime stands out as an obvious response to the leaks of papal documents last year that represented one of the gravest Vatican security breaches in recent times.
Paolo Gabriele, the butler for then-Pope Benedict XVI, was tried and convicted by a Vatican court of stealing Benedict’s personal papers and giving them to an Italian journalist.
Using the documents, journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published a blockbuster book on the petty turf wars, bureaucratic dysfunction and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons in the highest levels of Catholic Church governance.
Gabriele was convicted of aggravated theft and sentenced to 18 months in the Vatican’s police barracks. Benedict eventually pardoned him, but his crime devastated the Vatican, shattering the confidentiality that typically governs correspondence with the pope.