March 5. 2024. 7:15

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Pope extends sexual abuse law to include lay leaders


Pope Francis (pictured) updated the rules regarding sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. He expanded their reach to include lay Catholic leaders, and clarified that victims can be both minors or adults.

In 2019, the pope issued a landmark order requiring all priests and religious orders members to report suspicions of abuse. Bishops are also held directly responsible for any abuse or cover-up.

These provisions were originally introduced temporarily, but the Vatican announced on Saturday that they would be made final starting April 30th and will include additional elements to strengthen the Church’s fight against abuse.

The Vatican’s reputation has been damaged in many countries by abuse scandals. This has made it a significant challenge for Pope Francis who has taken a number of measures over the last 10 years to hold the Church hierarchy responsible.

Critics claim that the results were mixed and accuse Francis of not being willing to defrock abusive popes.

Following numerous allegations made against priests and lay leaders in recent years, the new norms now include leaders of Vatican-sanctioned organizations that are run by laypeople.

The original rules dealt with sexual acts against minors and vulnerable people. However, the new rules provide a more comprehensive definition of victims. It refers to crimes committed with a minor or a person who has an imperfect use or habitual use of reason.

According to the Vatican, Church members are required to report violence against religious women by clergy and harassment of adult seminarians and novices.

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BishopAccountability.org, a not-for-profit organisation looking to document the abuses within the Roman Catholic Church, said the revision was "a big disappointment" and fell short of the "extensive revamping" the policy against the abuses would have required.

The policy "remains self-policing packaged as accountability", said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, adding bishops remained in charge of investigating allegations against fellow bishops.

These updated provisions were revealed a month after the Roman Catholic religious order Jesuits stated that allegations of sexual and psychological abuse against one its most prominent members were highly credible.

A total of 25 people, most of them former nuns, have accused Father Marko IIvan Rupnik (69), of various forms abuse. He was either a spiritual director in his native Slovenia, about 30 years ago, or he moved to Rome to pursue a career as an artist.

Rupnik has not publicly spoken out about the accusations that rattle the global order of which the pope belongs.

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