Pope Francis on Tuesday updated the Catholic Church’s criminal law to strengthen the punishment of priests who sexually abused minors, a measure that activists have long sought to combat pedophilia.

The most comprehensive revision of the canonical code in the past 40 years followed a multi-year process that began with Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, and involved experts in criminal and canon law.

After repeated complaints from victims of sexual abuse and others, the previous wording of the code is outdated and opaque. In introducing these changes, Francisco wrote that the purpose of revising the canon is “to restore justice, reform offenders, and compensate scandals.”

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Since becoming the Pope in 2013, the Argentine Pope has been working to resolve sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests for decades, even though many anti-pedophile activists insist that more work must be done. He convened an unprecedented clergy sexual abuse summit in 2019, and at the same time removed measures such as confidentiality regulations that hindered the investigation of clergy abuse.

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In a press conference, Archbishop Filippo Iannone, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, referred to “very serious episodes of paedophilia” within the Church. 

The revised code, he said, sought to express “the will of the legislator to reaffirm the seriousness of this crime and the attention to be paid to the victims.”

– ‘Offenses against dignity’ -The new code does not spell out in plain language sexual offences against minors, instead referring to offences against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery.

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Clergy sexual abuse survivor Marie Collins, one of the original members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors who resigned in 2017 because she was concerned that promised reforms were not being implemented, was scathing.

Adultery has nothing to do with the abuse of children, it’s completely inappropriate,” she told AFP. 

Punishment is left very loose and can lead to different outcomes.”

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