Pope Francis on Thursday bolstered criminal legislation against child abuse in the Vatican and increased the liability of employees of the tiny city state in an overhaul of laws.

The Vatican said in a statement that the Pope’s decree included “a broader definition of the category of crimes against minors” including child prostitution, sexual acts with children and child pornography.

The move came a day after a U.N. child rights committee drew fresh attention to the Catholic Church sex scandal, calling on the Vatican to release details “of all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy”. The new laws introduce specific forms of crime that are indicated in international conventions that the Vatican has already ratified including against racism and war crimes and on children’s rights.

“The Holy See is finally making up for a serious lag,” the international children’s rights organisation Terre des Hommes said in a statement, adding that the changes to the law were “of epochal importance”.

The legislation applies to a few thousand people who are directly employed by the Vatican in Rome and abroad. Sex abuse cases which take place in other countries are dealt with under national legislations.

Zeal for reform

Francesco Antonio Grana for Il Fatto Quotidiano said the move was a fresh example of the Pope’s zeal for reform, saying he had “vigorously launched a battle” against the paedophilia crisis which has plagued the Church.

But clergy sex abuse victims’ group SNAP slammed the pontiff decree as “tweaking often-ignored and ineffective internal church abuse guidelines to generate positive headlines but nothing more”. — AFP

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