VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has changed church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests who abuse their authority.
It also says laypeople who hold church office can be sanctioned for sex abuse crimes.
The new provisions, released Tuesday after 14 years of study, were contained in the revised criminal law section of the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law, the in-house legal system that covers the 1.3-billion member Catholic Church.
The most significant changes aim to address major problems and shortcomings in the church’s handling of sexual abuse.
The laws recognize that adults, too, can be victimized by priests who abuse their authority, and said that laypeople in church offices can be punished for abusing minors as well as adults.
The Vatican also officially criminalized "grooming" minors or vulnerable adults by priests to compel them to engage in pornography. According to the Associated Press, it's the first time the Vatican has officially recognized the acts — commonly used by sexual predators in the hopes of building relationships with victims — as criminal.
The new laws also take steps to prevent priests and bishops from covering up abuse allegations and attempt to hold them responsible for "omissions and negligence in failing to properly investigate and sanction errant priests," the Associated Press reports.