Pope Francis on Friday issued new directives to prevent child sexual abuse within the Vatican City State, as had been promised after February’s anti-abuse summit.
The pontiff released three documents in total: a “motu proprio” apostolic letter, plus a law and guidelines covering the territory of the Vatican, the world’s smallest nation.
The package, valid from June 1, introduces the legal obligation for all Vatican officials to report suspected cases of abuse, except for information covered by the seal of confession.
It foresees the appointment of a “contact person” within the Vatican’s administration, tasked with implementing child sex abuse prevention policies and looking after victims.
Victims must be kept informed about the investigations of their case, offered “medical and psychological care,’’ legal advice, and protected from their suspected abusers, the guidelines say.
They also include a series of instructions for Vatican staff, who deal with children, including a ban on corporal punishment and on the taking of pictures or videos unauthorised by parents.
Other prescriptions are: no sharing of secrets with minors; remain always visible to others when liaising with them; and no gifts or special treatment for any particular child being supervised.
The rules concern abuses committed on Vatican soil or by Vatican citizens or residents – a community of around 800 people which includes about 300 Vatican diplomats posted around the world.
They state that anyone guilty of child sexual abuse must be removed from office, but also offered “spiritual and psychological” help to support “their reintegration into society.”
Hardly any children are Vatican residents. But Friday’s laws can apply to minors, who regularly enter Vatican walls, such as the 35 boys aged 9-13 who are part of the Sistine Chapel Choir.
The Vatican had long recommended national Catholic Church organisations to draft guidelines for the protection of minors, but had until now failed to adopt them for its own internal jurisdiction.
The Catholic Church is in turmoil worldwide over widespread reports of clerical child abuse, and the Vatican has repeatedly pledged to clean up its own house.
In February, Francis told a crisis summit of church leaders from around the world that the church would stop covering up the crimes of paedophile priests “as was usual in the past.”