Pope Francis took the law into his own hands Thursday, modernizing the Vatican’s legal code by listing information leaks, child abuse, prostitution and child pornography, among other offenses, as crimes.
The pope reformed the Vatican’s legal system by issuing a "motu proprio," a personally signed document drafted by his own initiative. Along with widening punishment for child abuse, Francis also ended life imprisonment, making the prison term at 30 to 35 years, and introducing the terms "torture" and "crimes against humanity," RAPSI reports.
“In our times, the common good is increasingly threatened by transnational organized crime, the improper use of the markets and of the economy, as well as by terrorism,” the pope writes in the document. “It is therefore necessary for the international community to adopt adequate legal instruments to prevent and counter criminal activities, by promoting international judicial cooperation on criminal matters.”
In a statement, the Vatican said the pope adopted three new laws in an effort to modernize the church's canon law. His decision stemmed from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2010 took strides towards aligning church legislation with international laws such as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Associated Press reports.
The pope maintains that by enacting these new laws, the Holy See will continue to enforce “effective means to prevent criminal activities that threaten human dignity, the common good and peace.”
Under the new laws, those found guilty face tough penalties. Anyone who reveals or receives confidential information or documentation faces six months to two years in prison and a €2,000 euro ($2,500) fine. Whereas general crimes in the past carried a maximum of three to 10 years, the new laws state that punishments go from five to 10 years, with aggravating circumstances increasing the sentence to up to 12 years, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
In the pope’s decree, he extends the new laws to outside the confines of Vatican City, meaning if a Vatican official or employee commits a crime outside the Vatican they can still be indicted by the Holy See and country where the crime took place, the Catholic News Agency reports.
The laws, which go into effect on Sept. 1, come after several Vatican scandals. Most recently Pope Benedict’s butler was arrested on suspicion of leaking a large number of confidential letters addressed to the pontiff that exposed corruption, nepotism and homosexual liaisons, the Guardian reports.
"After Pope John Paul II's death I started putting aside copies of some documents that came into my possession thanks to my work," Paolo Gabriele said. "Initially I did it sporadically. When I saw that the truth coming out in the newspapers and official speeches did not match the truth in the documents, I put everything aside in a folder to try and investigate and understand."
Gabriele was found guilty of aggravated theft and sentenced to 18 prison before Benedict pardoned him, AP reports.
Pope Francis has admitted to corruption found at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, displaying an unprecedented openness compared with previous pontiffs.
“In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true,” he said in Spanish, according to a transcript of the meeting by Reflection and Liberation and translated into English by the blog Rorate Caeli.
“The reform of the Roman Curia is something that almost all cardinals asked for in the congregations preceding the conclave,” the pope added. “I also asked for it.”