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Pope updates canon law to target priests’ sexual abuse

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Pope Francis has tried to tackle the decades-long sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests around the globe. AFP

Pope updates canon law to target priests’ sexual abuse

Pope Francis updated the Catholic Church’s criminal code on June 1, reinforcing penalties for priests who sexually abuse minors, measures long sought by activists against paedophilia.

The most comprehensive revision of the Code of Canon Law in nearly 40 years followed a years-long process that begun under Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, and involved input from canonist and criminal law experts.

It came after repeated complaints by victims of sexual abuse and others that previous wording within the code was outdated and opaque.

The purpose of the canon’s revision is “restoration of justice, the reform of the

offender, and the repair of scandal” Francis wrote in introducing the changes.

In a press conference, Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts president Archbishop Filippo Iannone referred to “very serious episodes of paedophilia” within the Church. The revised code, he said, sought to express “the will of the legislator to reaffirm the seriousness of this crime and the attention to be paid to the victims”.

The new code does not spell out in plain language sexual offences against minors, instead referring to offences against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery. It does, however, specify that a priest is to be stripped of his office and punished “with other just penalties” if he “commits an offence against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue with a minor”.

Another new offence included in the revised canon is attempting to ordain women, an act punishable by excommunication, a pushback against the Church’s more progressive members advocating for women to be allowed to become ordained ministers.

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