The revision came after repeated complaints by victims of sexual abuse and it involves all of section six of the Church's Code of Canon Law, a seven-book code of about 1,750 articles.

Pope Francis (C) leaves after leading the last prayer of the global prayer marathon for the entire month of May, praying for an end to the coronavirus pandemic, in the gardens of the Vatican on May 31, 2021.
Pope Francis (C) leaves after leading the last prayer of the global prayer marathon for the entire month of May, praying for an end to the coronavirus pandemic, in the gardens of the Vatican on May 31, 2021. (AFP)

Pope Francis has issued the most sweeping revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, toughening regulations for clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults, commit fraud or ordain women.

The revision, which has been in the works since 2009, involves all of section six of the Church's Code of Canon Law, a seven-book code of about 1,750 articles. 

It is the most extensive revision since the current code was approved by Pope John Paul in 1983.

The pope reminded bishops that they were responsible for following the letter of the law and that one aim of the revisions was to "reduce the number of cases in which the imposition of a penalty was left to the discretion of authorities."

The purpose of the revision, wrote Francis in introducing the changes, is "restoration of justice, the reform of the offender, and the repair of scandal."

READ MORE: Vatican urges bishops to report sex abuse cases to police

Sexual abuse of minors

The new section, involving about 80 articles concerning crime and punishment, incorporates some changes made to Church law since 1983 by the popes and introduces new categories.

Monsignor Filippo Iannone, head of the Vatican department that oversaw the project, said there had been "a climate of excessive slack in the interpretation of penal law," where mercy was sometimes put before justice.

Sexual abuse of minors was put under a new section titled "Offences Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty," instead of the previously vague "Crimes Against Special Obligations."

That section was expanded to include new crimes such as "grooming" minors or vulnerable adults for sexual abuse and possessing child pornography. 

One aim of the revision, wrote Francis, was to reduce the number of penalties left to the discretion of judges, especially in the most serious cases.

"The new text introduces various modifications to the law in force and sanctions some new criminal offences, which respond to the increasingly widespread need in the various communities to see justice and order reestablished that the crime has shattered," he wrote.

The changes will take effect in December.

Despite recent measures to root out abuse by priests and increase transparency, some victims say the Vatican still has not gone far enough to protect children even in the West, where intense media coverage of paedophile priests has led to greater scrutiny of church practices.

READ MORE: British Catholic Church ‘swept child sexual abuse under the carpet’

Source: TRTWorld and agencies