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Pope issues new child protection law, guidelines for Vatican City State

The new law “On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons” further enhances a major set of criminal laws for Vatican City State the pope approved in 2013

VATICAN CITY — To better protect minors and vulnerable adults from all forms of abuse and exploitation, Pope Francis approved a new law and a set of safeguarding guidelines for Vatican City State and the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis established the new norms and legal, criminal and safeguarding procedures with an apostolic letter given “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), published March 29. The law and procedures were to go into effect June 1.

Because the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people is an integral part of the Gospel message, “I wish, therefore, to further strengthen the institutional and normative order to prevent and fight abuses against minors and vulnerable adults,” the pope wrote.

The law and guidelines have been created, he wrote, “so that in the Roman Curia and in Vatican City State” there will be, among other things: respect and awareness of the rights and needs of minors and vulnerable adults; greater vigilance, prevention and corrective action when abuse or mistreatment is suspected or reported; clearer procedures as well as specific offices for making claims; support services and protections for alleged victims, their families and those accused; and adequate formation for and background checks of new personnel, including volunteers.

The new law “On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons” further enhances a major set of criminal laws for Vatican City State the pope approved in 2013.

While the amendments in 2013 brought Vatican law into detailed compliance with several international treaties the Vatican had signed over the past decades, the new law on child protection was meant to better comply with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocol, which the Vatican ratified in 1990 and 2001, respectively.

The new law will now cover all forms of physical and emotional abuse as well as serious forms of mistreatment, neglect, abandonment and exploitation against minors, who are below the age of 18, and vulnerable adults.

It covers acts, behaviors or conditions: that occur on Vatican City State territory, including the Pontifical Villa of Castel Gandolfo; that harm any minor who is a citizen or resident; or that are allegedly perpetrated by any “public official,” which includes all employees of Vatican City State and Holy See, members of the Roman Curia and related institutions as well as Vatican diplomats and personnel.

As long as they are not breaking the seal of confession, all “public officials” are required to report “without delay” to the promoter of justice at the Vatican City State’s tribunal any abuse the official learns about or is given reason to suspect while operating as a Vatican official or employee.

The new law also outlines:

• The legal rights, specific protections and support services available to the alleged victim and family.

• The Vatican tribunal’s obligations in protecting the alleged victim from the suspect, from a repeat of the crime and from “intimidation and retaliation.”

• How the investigation and trial should be conducted so that it is fair, unbiased, maintains a presumption of innocence for the accused and respects the dignity and psychological state of the alleged victim.

• The creation of a special office within the Vatican’s healthcare service that will offer victim assistance, starting with a “listening service” and including psychological, medical and social support.

• The availability of information and programs to educate all Vatican staff, minors and families about abuse, how to identify it, better prevent it and the obligation to report it.

• The obligation to do a background check and exercise more vigilance in the selection and hiring of personnel and volunteers.

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