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Vatican overhauls its criminal code

Catholic World News - July 11, 2013

Pope Francis has issued a motu proprio revamping the criminal laws of the Vatican.

The legal reform thoroughly updates the Vatican’s criminal code, taking into account new forms of criminal activity and new legal obligations created by UN treaties. The new criminal laws will go into effect on September 1.

The revised criminal code includes provisions against the theft and publication of confidential documents and against money-laundering, and provides for the freezing of financial assets. The code also strengthens provisions against child abuse, specifying that Vatican prosecutors can proceed with an abuse case even without a formal complaint from the victim.

The new code clarifies the due-process rights of criminal defendants, and names the penalties for various offenses. The maximum penalty under the Vatican criminal system is 35 years imprisonment.

The Vatican criminal laws include mentions of torture and crimes against humanity. Although it seems unlikely that defendants within the tiny Vatican city-state would be charged with such offenses, a statement accompanying the new code noted that the Vatican is seeking to update “rather dated norms governing international judicial cooperation;” the new rules would streamline the process of extradition if other countries sought to prosecute individuals who were taken into custody at the Vatican.

Similarly, the code provides for cooperation with other nations in the pursuit of white-collar criminals. In his statement explaining the need for the new code, Pope Francis noted that “the the common good is increasingly threatened by transnational organized crime, the improper use of the markets and of the economy, as well as by terrorism."

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, told reporters that while the new code explicitly mentions some crimes, such as child abuse and money-laundering, “it would however be incorrect to assume that the forms of conduct thereby sanctioned were previously licit.” He explained that the new code reflects the recognition that it “is useful to define the specific cases with greater certainty and precision and to thus satisfy the international parameters, calibrating the sanctions to the specific gravity of the case.”

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