Pope Francis unveils Vatican law on reporting child sex abuse

Pope Francis on Friday signed a law making it mandatory for Vatican officials and diplomats in its embassies and missions worldwide to immediately report sexual abuse of minors.

“The protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the Gospel message,” Pope Francis said in his Apostolic Letter. “Therefore, we all have the duty to generously welcome minors and vulnerable people and to create a safe environment for them, taking their interests first.”

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Besides mandating superiors and co-workers to report any abuse allegations they become aware of, the law also punishes those who fail to report on any misconduct with dismissal, fines or jail and offers assistance to victims and their families. The new rule also includes protections for adults. 

Friday’s signing marks the first time the Vatican has laid out a policy for protecting children on its grounds, marking a desire from the Catholic Church to show that it is tackling the crisis of minor abuse within its ranks.

The law details proper procedures for reporting abuse, implements screening for potential employees and creates strict rules for any interactions with children. 

It also marks a first step in the Vatican’s effort to polish its image after a string of abuse scandals around the world blemished its reputation and forced it to dole out billions of dollars in damages to victims. 

The scandals recently reached new heights within the church, with Cardinal George Pell being sentenced to a six-year jail stint earlier this month for abusing two boys in Australia.

“Laws that make even one child safer should be applauded,” Anne Barrett Doyle, who is part of the abuse tracking group BishopAccountability.org, told Reuters. “While the action is no-risk and limited in scope, it is constructive. It’s a baby step in the right direction.”