Pope Francis issued a decree that was adopted by the Vatican City-State that specifically outlines sexual abuse of children as a crime. The initiative stems from the Roman Catholic Church's commitment to work with international conventions.
"Of particular note in this context is the introduction of the crime of torture and a broader definition of the category of crimes against minors (including: the sale of children, child prostitution, the recruitment of children, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, and the production and possession of child pornography)," The Holy See Press Office explained in a statement on Thursday.
While those acts were already crimes under church law, they now extend to the entire Vatican City-State, which is home to over 800 people.
The criminal laws build upon measures adopted by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2010, but now have a broader scope, the Holy See said, incorporating into the Vatican legal system rules established by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 that banned war crimes, as well as other international conventions that outlawed all forms of racial discrimination, torture and inhuman punishment, and established laws on the rights of children.
"As a whole, these normative efforts form part of broader process aimed at modernizing further the Vatican legal system with a view to enhancing its consistency and effectiveness," The Holy See added.
The Roman Catholic Church has struggled to deal with numerous cases of child abuse that have been reported in parishes around the world, and has been called upon to take serious action to prevent such crimes in the future.
In March, a member of SNAP, a network for survivors of clergy abuse, said that Francis provides "a glimmer of hope" that things can change for the better.
"Certainly, Francis is a man who loved to teach and was meek and understanding of the plight of the downtrodden and the marginalized in our society," SNAP member Mark Crawford said. "That's why I have this one glimmer of hopeful expectation. But he has to be assertive and aggressive."
While the Vatican leader, who was elected in March, has not talked about child abuse cases too often during his ministry, in April he said that the church body needs to "act decisively" when dealing with such cases.
"Act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past [and] the necessary procedures against those who are guilty," read a Vatican statement about the pope's message to Bishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that oversees clerical sex abuse cases.