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Pope Francis legislates for protection of minors

By Susan Gately - 30 March, 2019

Pope Francis has issued legislation for Holy See personnel and diplomats that requires the immediate reporting of allegations of abuse to Vatican prosecutors.

In an apostolic letter published yesterday, the Pope said the protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the Gospel message.

“Therefore we all have a duty to generously welcome children and vulnerable people and to create a safe environment for them, giving priority to their interests.”

Along with the letter, the Vatican has published guidelines and legislation. The legislation comes into force from 1st June, while the guidelines take immediate effect.

In the apostolic letter, which applies to all those working within or for the Vatican State, the Pope said complaints must be filed without delay to prosecutors. The mandatory reporting provision marks the first time the Vatican has put into law requirements for Catholic officials to report allegations of abuse to police or face fines of €1,000 to €5,000 and a possible six months imprisonment.

The law also provides an explicit a definition for “vulnerable people” as anyone in “a state of infirmity, of physical or mental deficiency, or of deprivation of personal liberty” which limits their comprehension, or their ability to resist an offence. Vulnerable persons are considered equivalent to minors for purposes of the legislation.

The Holy See legislation sets out a statute of limitations of 20 years, for crimes against a minor which begins when they reach the age of 18. The guidelines say that the Vicar General must appoint a contact person for the Protection of Minors to coordinate and verify implementation of guidelines and calls for pastoral workers to be “adequately trained in the risks of child exploitation”.

The new law says that “without prejudice to the sacramental seal” any person who is aware of conduct to the detriment of a minor may file a report. It establishes an accompanying service to offer a service of listening and provide medical, psychological, and social services for victims. The service will also help victims understand and vindicate their rights, and assist them in going to the authorities.

While investigations are ongoing, a Vatican Promoter of Justice will ensure the safety of the alleged victim, remove the accused from contact with other minors, and protect the alleged victim and his or her family from intimidation or retaliation.

Meanwhile at the conclusion of the first international meeting for Child Protection officers of the Focolare Movement in Rome, the president of the Focolare Movement, Maria Voce, and co-president, Jesús Morán, have written to all the members of the movement calling for a strong commitment in the field of child protection.

The movement has adopted a zero tolerance approach, which means “reporting to the local commissions and the Central Commission every suspicion of abuse or violence”. They appealed to people in Focolare not to be tempted to avoid reporting cases “to avoid scandal”.

“Hence we strongly urge you, even those who up to now have not had the courage to do so, to report cases of violence or abuse, or situations that a person considers might constitute a situation of risk for the well-being of persons and the protection of minors.”

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