Jun 1, 2021 - World

Vatican criminalizes sexual abuse of adults by priests

Picture of Pope Francis
Photo: Grzegorz Galazka/Archivio Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Image

Pope Francis on Tuesday changed a church law to criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests and other church officials, AP reports.

Why it matters: This is the first time Catholic Church law has recognized how sexual predators "groom" their victims based on power imbalances to build relationships that eventually lead to sexual abuse, per AP.

Details: The Vatican’s Code of Canon Law criminal law section was revised after 14 years of study, with two articles specifically addressing the church's handling of sexual abuse.

  • The law now recognizes that adults can be mistreated by priests who abuse their power, and that laypeople — those outside of the clergy — can be punished for abusing children and adults.
  • "The law also removes much of the discretion that had long allowed bishops and religious superiors to ignore or cover up abuse," AP writes.
  • Priests who engage in any sort of sexual act can be defrocked if they abuse their power in order to engage in said acts. Since laypeople can't be defrocked, they will be penalized by losing their jobs, paying fines or being removed from their communities.

The big picture: While the Vatican has long considered sexual relations between a priest and an adults to be sinful but consensual, the #MeToo movement has forced the church to recognize that adults can also be victimized.

What's next: The new laws will take effect on Dec. 8.

Go deeper