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Pope Francis issued stringent child abuse legislation for Vatican City employees on Friday, as part of the Church’s bid to address a wave of sex abuse allegations against priests.
The legislation requires officials and employees in the Vatican City State as well the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic Church, to immediately report any abuse against minors and vulnerable people or face fines or a prison sentence.
Anyone convicted of abuse must be “removed from office” under the new rules, which set a statute of limitations for such crimes at 20 years from the date victims turn 18.
Francis said in a letter released with his “motu proprio” decree that it was the duty of everyone “to generously welcome children and vulnerable persons, and to create a safe environment for them”.
Previous church guidelines on handling sexual abuse cases did not cover officials and employees in Vatican City or the Curia.
The new legislation also mandates increased training for the affected staff on how to prevent abuse.
A new service will also be set up to provide victims and their families with medical, psychological and social support.
The Church is moving to tackle a series of recent scandals in Europe, North America, Latin America and Australia involving widespread claims of abuse — and cover-ups — by clergymen and lay members.