Vatican City’s equal age of consent is being raised from 12 to 18 following the announcement of an overhaul of the Catholic Church’s criminal code by Pope Francis.
Francis has also ordered that Vatican City adopt international norms to prevent transnational criminal activities.
‘It is … necessary for the international community to adopt adequate legal instruments to prevent and counter criminal activities, by promoting international judicial cooperation on criminal matters,’ Francis said in a statement released by the Holy See yesterday.
‘In ratifying numerous international conventions in these areas, and acting also on behalf of Vatican City State, the Holy See has constantly maintained that such agreements are effective means to prevent criminal activities that threaten human dignity, the common good and peace.’
Until now Vatican City has had the lowest age of consent in Europe despite decades of child sex scandals within the church, while sex between people of the same sex has been legal in the city state since 1889.
Under the new rules, sex with a person under the age of 18, prostitution or possession of child pornography will be punished with up to 12 years in prison.
Previously such crimes would have been punished with a maximum sentence of 3 to 10 years.
However Francis has also made it a crime for agents of the church to leak Vatican information after Vatican butler to Pope Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele, leaked information about corruption within the Catholic church – potentially discouraging whistleblowers.
The US based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called the changes merely cosmetic.
‘While the headlines may proclaim “Pope makes new church rules about abuse,” the fine print makes it clear that there’s just one rule, and it purportedly makes more child sexual violence illegal on the 0.2 square miles of Vatican property,’ SNAP spokesman David Clohessy said.
‘In the real world, this changes virtually nothing. It’s is precisely the kind of ‘feel good’ gesture that Vatican officials have long specialized in: tweaking often-ignored and ineffective internal church abuse guidelines to generate positive headlines but nothing more.
‘The church hierarchy doesn’t need new rules on abuse. It needs to follow long-established secular laws on abuse. And it needs to push for, not oppose, real reforms to archaic, predator-friendly secular laws – like the statute of limitations.
‘Church officials, starting with Pope Francis, need to actually punish those who conceal and enable abuse, which they have ample power to do but inadequate courage to do. Sacking even one of the hundreds of complicit bishops across the world would do far more to protect kids and deter cover ups than this small change to a rule that’s likely never been or never will be used.’