Pope Francis takes action on child abuse

Vatican City - Pope Francis bolstered criminal legislation against child abuse in the Vatican in an overhaul of laws that apply to the clergy and lay people who work in the tiny city state.

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.

He also increased cooperation with other states against money laundering and terrorism in a continuation of reforms started by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, to get the Vatican in line with international legislation.

The new norms also increase criminal liability for people working in Vatican departments.

The recent action poses a potentially radical change that would complement his plans to root out corruption from the scandal-ridden Vatican bureaucracy.

The laws will come into force on September 1.

Pope Francis' recent move follows a UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) request for "detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers or nuns" since the Holy See last reported to it some 15 years ago.

The request was included in a "list of issues", posted on the CRC's website, to be taken up when the Vatican appears before it next January to report on the Church's performance under the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In its request for information, the CRC asked how the Vatican was ensuring that abuser priests have no more contact with children and what instructions it has issued to ensure that cases known to the Church are reported to the police.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of Britain's National Secular Society who gave evidence to the committee in June, said he hoped for a new line from Pope Francis.

"He has expressed the Catholic Church's determination to act decisively against paedophiles," said Wood.

"This gives room for optimism that these issues will at last be tackled. His papacy will be judged on his success in doing so."

The Vatican has until November 1 to respond.

- Sapa

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