Vatican City, March 25 (AFP/APP): Pope Francis on Saturday extended a 2019 law to fight sexual abuse in the Church by making lay Catholic leaders responsible for acts committed under their watch in Vatican-approved bodies.
A letter, directly sent by the pontiff, also said that vulnerable adults could be victims of predator priests. The earlier version had only spoken of minors and vulnerable persons.
“The updated text specifies that ‘the lay faithful who are or have been moderators of international associations of the faithful recognised or created by the Holy See (are responsible) for acts committed’ while they were in office”, the Vatican said in a statement.
The new law will enter into force on April 30.
“The document includes, and continues to include, not only abuse and violence against children and vulnerable adults, but also covers sexual violence and harassment resulting from the abuse of authority,” the Vatican said.
The extension comes as Francis, in a rare move, accepted the resignation of the German Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrueck, who acknowledged he made “mistakes” in how he handled sexual abuse in his diocese.
Bode, 72, had been under pressure since the September release of a report by the University of Osnabrueck which accused him of failing to deal with sexual assaults against minors.
“I have long been more concerned about the perpetrators and the institution than the victims. I misjudged the facts, often acted hesitantly and sometimes made bad decisions,” Bode said.
Bishop of Osnabrueck since 1995, he “asked forgiveness” from victims.
Despite having rejected other scandal-driven resignations involving high dignitaries in the German Church, the Vatican confirmed Saturday that Francis “has accepted the resignation”.
According to a 2018 university survey, at least 3,677 children in Germany were victims of sexual violence by members of the clergy between 1946 and 2014.
From Germany to Ireland and the United States, dealing with the scandals of child sex abuse by Catholic priests has been one of the biggest challenges for the pope.
Initially, things did not go well, with a 2014 commission on protecting minors undermined by the resignations of two key members, while in 2018, his defence of a Chilean priest accused of covering up abuse sparked a backlash.
The pope created a commission on protecting minors that was later integrated into the Curia. In 2019, he held an unprecedented summit which heard from victims and he promised an “all-out battle” against clerical abuse.
Concrete changes followed, from opening up Vatican archives to the lay courts to making it compulsory to report suspicions of abuse and any attempts to cover it up to Church authorities.
However, anything said in the confessional box remains sacrosanct.