Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pope Francis Issues His First Motu Proprio: No More Rogue State

Hey wait, don't walk off.  I have some real work for you!

This morning the Vatican Information Service announced Pope Francis has issued his first motou proprio.  It deals specifically with the criminal code of the Vatican City States and brings it into compliance with all the various international treaties the Vatican has signed for the last forty years--including the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.  The following from the UK's Catholic Herald by Cindy Wooden is a pretty good explanation of the major ramifications of Francis' motu proprio.

Pope Francis approves updating of criminal laws for Vatican City State

 Cindy Wooden - Catholic Herald UK - 7/11/2013
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. (This at first seems pointless, until one really processes the fact that no Vatican embassy can be used to hide criminals or international terrorists.)

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.


This motu proprio has some serious teeth.  It goes a very long way into bringing the Holy See into the twenty first century as far as it's compliance with accepted international cooperation with regards to criminal enterprises.  Of course, I can't lose sight of the fact what's on paper is not always how the Holy See has acted, but I do have hope that this particular pope means what he says.

There are three areas I found of particular note.  The first is the redefining crimes against children in a much more specific form than what was previously on the books.  The second is that any Vatican employee, no matter whether paid or volunteer, working in the Vatican City States or elsewhere, is subject to this criminal code and can be criminally charged for actions which were here to for only Canonical crimes.  In other words, if I am understanding correctly, Austria's Cardinal Groer would not only have faced defrocking for his sexual abuse of young seminarians, but also criminal charges in the Vatican City Court system as all cardinals have dual citizenship and are also employees of the Holy See.  Perhaps Cardinal Sodano will not sleep so well tonight.  The third area is in extradition of employees to countries in which they have outstanding criminal warrants.  In other words, no more sanctuary for pedophiles living in religious order houses within the Vatican City States.  Clerical abuse advocates must be truly excited about this part of Pope Francis' motu proprio.

I'm really curious to see how others interpret the impact this will have on various areas of operation in the Holy See.  I think this is a very big deal and the fact it's the first motu proprio issued by Pope Francis indicates he really is serious about cleaning up the corruption in the Vatican City States.  Just out of curiosity I went back and found Pope Benedict's first motu proprio.  It wasn't exactly earth shaking unless you had something to do with the Basilica of Paul-Outside-the-Walls.  This one by Francis tears down a lot of walls blocking real criminal accountability Within-the-Walls.



  1. Kudos to Pope Francis. It's about time these issues were addressed. The Pope is on the right track.

  2. Perhaps the legal system in Boston can and will extradite Cardinal Law and others. Perhaps others such as Dolan will have no where to run as Milwaukee continues to investigate his criminality. Perhaps, Perhaps!!

  3. Dennis, wouldn't that be something, guys like Sodano and Dolan would have no where to run. Law is probably safe from extradition because of SOL's, but maybe no longer from subpoenas to testify--especially if he still maintains dual citizenship. Which, I doubt, since if I were him I would've ditched my American citizenship.

  4. At least on paper he's on the right track.

  5. The proof will be in the enforcement. When there is no safe hiding place for the pedophile priests and their protectors, then we know it's for real.

  6. Appreciated this analysis very much Colleen. Especially the part where you delved into how the extradition issue could affect members of the College of Cardinals. Would you mind if I referenced you in a future blog posting? Wanted to make sure I obtained your permission!

  7. Not at all Phillip, but this is speculation on my part.

  8. Exactly, action will speak much louder than words. We had a lot of words under EPBenedict and very little to no action.

  9. How does this impact holding The Vatican responsible in [for example] US courts? There have been some legal strategies of trying to bring at least civil cases for relief against the Vatican for crimes committed by priests and/or bishops in the US on the theory that they too are employees of the Vatican. Barring a statute of limitations issue, or even 'that happened before this law went into effect so we can't look at it' problem: I would think that there is a possibility of impacting those US court cases in some fashion. Does it make things easier for US courts to clarify exactly who the Vatican sees as an employee for the purposes of the US court? And my next question would be: Does it make the circle of Vatican employees larger or smaller for these purposes?

  10. I hope this really happens! We need justice and to protect all the kids of this world!