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Pope Francis approves updating of criminal laws for Vatican City State

By on Thursday, 11 July 2013

Pope Francis (AP)

Pope Francis (AP)

Pope Francis has approved a major updating of the criminal laws of Vatican City State, including in areas dealing with child abuse and terrorism financing. He has also ruled that any Vatican employee can be tried by the Vatican court for violating those laws.

The laws have been adopted by the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and made applicable to all Vatican employees around the world, including Vatican ambassadors serving abroad, in a document signed by Pope Francis on Thursday.

The amendments to the Vatican’s criminal code and code for criminal procedures go into effect on September 1 and bring Vatican law into detailed compliance with several international treaties the Vatican has signed over the past 30 years as well as with developments in international law.

The changes include the abolition of life imprisonment. The maximum penalty under the new Vatican code is 35 years.

Giuseppe Dalla Torre, the presiding judge of the Vatican City court, said the change reflects a growing consensus among criminologists that life imprisonment is an “inhumane and useless” punishment, as well as the Vatican’s view that prison sentences must be motivated by a desire to rehabilitate, rather than simply punish a criminal.

Pope Paul VI formally banned the use of the death penalty in Vatican City State in 1969; although on the books, neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment had been imposed after Vatican City became an internationally recognised sovereign state in 1929.

Dalla Torre told reporters that the new laws, in compliance with the Vatican’s signing and ratifying the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, define and set out penalties for specific crimes against minors, including the sale of children, child prostitution, the military recruitment of children, sexual violence against children and producing or possessing child pornography.

Previously, he said, those specific crimes would have been dealt with under more generic laws against the mistreatment of minors. The bulk of the Vatican’s criminal code is based on an 1889 version of Italy’s criminal code and did not, for example, contemplate the crime of child pornography, Dalla Torre said.

The changes to Vatican City civil law are separate from the universally applicable canon law, norms and sanctions, which require bishops around the world to turn over to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cases of priests accused of child sexual abuse or possession of child pornography. The canonical penalties include the possibility of the priest being expelled from the priesthood.

Those accused also face criminal prosecution in the country where the abuse occurred. Under the changes made by Pope Francis, if the priest is a direct employee of the Holy See, working in a Vatican office or nunciature, he also could face a criminal trial at the Vatican.

By specifying the crimes, Dalla Torre said, the new Vatican laws make it much easier for the Vatican to cooperate with other governments and even extradite a person who committed the crime elsewhere, but was trying to hide in the Vatican.

Facilitating international cooperation and the possibility of extradition also explains why the new laws include crimes against the security of airports, maritime navigation or oil-drilling platforms, even though the Vatican has no airport, ships or fixed platforms in the sea.

In his document expanding the jurisdiction of the Vatican City legal system to all Holy See employees, Pope Francis wrote: “In our times, the common good is increasingly threatened by transnational organised crime, the improper use of the markets and of the economy, as well as by terrorism.”

The international community, of which the Vatican is a part, he said, needs to “adopt adequate legal instruments to prevent and counter criminal activities by promoting international judicial cooperation on criminal matters.”

For the Vatican, he said, the international treaties “are effective means to prevent criminal activities that threaten human dignity, the common good and peace.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said more changes to Vatican laws and procedures are in the works, specifically those dealing with how money is handled and how financial transactions are monitored.

The changes, he said, will respond to suggestions and criticisms made by Moneyval — the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.

Dalla Torre, who presided over the trial last year of Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s butler, said Gabriele’s theft and leaking of confidential papal correspondence led to one change in Vatican law: explicitly outlawing “crimes committed against the security, fundamental interests or patrimony of the Holy See.” Since those offences were not crimes under the old law, Gabriele was tried and convicted on charges of aggravated theft.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    The net tightens, with any luck.

  • Benedict Carter

    Not really, the changes made are small and only affect the Vatican City State, not the whole Church. The biggest element is the jail sentences for leaking materials detrimental to the Vatican.

  • $28180339

    Why are they abolishing life imprisonment? I can understand if the crime was robbery of some sort or some other non-life threatening crime.

    Yet what happens if the guilty has not been reformed? Or especially if the guilty committed a heinous crime & there is no indication of reform taking place during those 35 yrs of imprisonment, do the authorities still let this person out on the street? Isn’t public safety jeopardised?

  • paulpriest

    yeah the net which catches minnows yet lets the sharks tear themselves free

  • LocutusOP

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The sentence ‘growing consensus among criminologists that life imprisonment is an “inhumane and useless” punishment’ is another one of those which seem utterly devoid of any material or philosophical proofs, but we can expect little else from a world which has lost the sense of justice.

    That being written, given the choice between reinstating life imprisonment and reinstating the death penalty then I would prefer the latter.

    I think we need to be careful with the use of such words as “reformed” though. The main purpose of prison, as has been clear until recently, is (1) punishment, (2) keeping the dangerous away so they can do no harm. Once we start using words as reform and rehabilitation, then we run into a dangerous field because it means that people can (in principle) be kept longer than their sentence allows because they have been deemed “unreformed”. In an age whereby people are sent to prison for what they write on their blogs, that is cause for concern.

  • $28180339

    When I say, reformed, I refer not to any dictatorial use of the word but to a modern sense of the term: keep the guilty away from the public (punishment) until they are able to live in society peacefully.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    1. has got to to be the case, as you say. But once you allow that, is rehabilitation or reform not a possible secondary aim (on the understanding that they do not ever of themselves constitute a reason for putting or keeping someone in prison)?

  • Zofia

    This never ending sympathy with the criminals! What about their VICTIMS? The sorrow, anguish and emptinesws that a wife, huisband, siblings of a brutully murdered beloved one, cannot escape, IS a life sentence!
    The church resembles much too much the secular world in its nonchalant view of victims of crimes. Until the church pays them AT LEAST the same(!!) attention as the criminals, there is no trustworthiness on this matter!

  • bluesuede

    “…reflects a growing consensus among criminologists that life
    imprisonment is an “inhumane and useless” punishment..” (Do all criminologists agree with that statement?) That could sound Christian, but it also sounds liberal/socialist. I can’t imagine a more humane thing for the public than than to remove criminals from harming anyone in society.

    I agree with proper laws for the protection of the Vatican and to punish criminals. But, are these new laws reacting with too much co-operation from European and international suggestions and criticisms? There is no end to criticisms.

    If the Vatican co-operates with the European and international governments,(hmmm, they don’t consult the Vatican when they adopt unjust laws) the Vatican may be forced, by their new laws of co-operation, to turn over innocent Catholics and clergy and anyone seeking asylum from the Vatican, who may be trying to escape from some unjust government.

    The history of the Church proves it has had many good people working in other countries to spread the Gospel, and have been hunted down by unjust governments. Will these new laws make the Vatican just another place where the good can’t run to for refuge from their enemies?

  • LocutusOP

    I would agree – although I would not use the word “rehabilitation” because that makes it sound as though crime is a disease, which for the most part it’s not.

    Of course, most punishment carries with it the aim of reformation anyway, and I would argue is in-built into the very concept. Punishment without the notion of reform is nothing more than cruelty or torture.

  • bluesuede

    Yet, doesn’t it change the attitude of the Vatican, in that co-operating and making changes in response to “suggestions and criticism” leaves the Vatican open to future changes and new laws in order to keep up with; ” The international community, of which the Vatican is a part, Lombardi said,
    needs to ‘adopt adequate legal instruments to prevent and counter
    criminal activities by promoting international judicial cooperation on
    criminal matters.”? Clean up the bank, spying, theft yes, I want this too. But,
    could these recent “discoveries” of misdeeds and crime in the Vatican bank, priests, secretary etc., not be the excuse needed to change the sovereign Vatican State’s criminal laws to fit secular laws that do more in depriving citizens of their rights rather than capturing criminals?