(BBC) – Pope Francis has changed the Roman Catholic Church’s laws to explicitly criminalise sexual abuse.
It is the biggest overhaul of the criminal code for nearly 40 years.
The new rules make sexual abuse, grooming minors for sex, possessing child pornography and covering up abuse a criminal offence under Vatican law.
The Pope said one aim was to “reduce the number of cases in which the… penalty was left to the discretion of authorities”.
The changes to the Code of Canon Law took 11 years to develop and included input from canonist and criminal law experts.
The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by thousands of reports of historic sexual abuse by priests, and cover-ups by senior clergy, around the world.
The new code replaces the last major changes made by Pope John Paul II in 1983. It is designed to have clearer and more specific language, and dictates that bishops must take action when a complaint is made.
The new rules come into effect on 8 December. They also prohibit the ordination of women, recording confessions and committing fraud.
What are the changes?
The Vatican’s law also now recognises that adults as well as children can be victimised by priests who abuse their authority. Previously, the Church believed adults could give or withdraw consent because of their age, and did not take into account that adults could also be victims, especially if there is a power imbalance.
The code says a priest can lose their position if they used “force, threats or abuse of his authority” to engage in sexual acts.