Pope Francis on Tuesday issued the most sweeping revision to Catholic Church law in four decades. It targets clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults, commit fraud or ordain women. Announcing the revision, Pope Francis said the changes were performed to provide the Church with a more “agile salvific and corrective tool.” The revision involves all of section six of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, a seven-book code of about 1,750 articles approved by Pope John Paul in 1983. In a decree instituting the revisions, Pope Francis wrote that charity and discipline are intimately related and that the proper remedy for immoral behavior “is not only exhortations or suggestions.”Sexual abuse of minors was put under a new section titled “Offences Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty.” That section was expanded to include new crimes such as “grooming” minors or vulnerable adults for sexual abuse and possessing child pornography.
In a separate accompanying document, the pope reminded bishops that they were responsible for following the letter of the law. Scandals over clerical sex abuse and financial corruption have shaken the church in recent years. According to the new code, lay persons in positions of responsibility in the Church and found guilty of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults can be punished by the Church as well as by civil authorities. The changes will take effect in December.