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Pope Francis enacts new legislation requiring Vatican officials to report abuse

File photo of Pope Francis, seen here in Santiago, Chile, has been accused by a former Vatican ambassador of covering up sexual abuse. Bloomberg photo by Tamara Merino

ROME - Pope Francis on Friday, March 29, issued new requirements for both Vatican officials and diplomats serving the Holy See abroad, mandating them to report suspected sexual abuse to Vatican judicial authorities, at the risk of fines and jail time.

The legislation represents the most forceful Vatican abuse-related measure to date aimed at the city state's officials and diplomatic corps.

Francis, in a letter, said there was a duty to report abuses "to the competent authorities" and to cooperate with them "in the activities of prevention." Officials who fail to report suspected abuse face fines of up to 5,000 euros or six months in prison.

The reporting provision was the most far-reaching component of new legislation released Friday aimed primarily at the prevention and handling of sexual abuse cases against minors inside the ancient walls of the Vatican.

Previously, activists had said it had been a fitting symbol that the Catholic Church - overwhelmed by global abuse cases - didn't have up-to-date policies to protect children in its own backyard. Several years ago, the Vatican had asked national episcopal conferences to draw up abuse-related guidelines. But the 110-acre city-state had never done so for itself.

"The church must always be ever increasingly a safe home for children and vulnerable persons," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement.

The Vatican had said last month, at the end of a four-day summit on the protection of minors, that the new abuse-related measures were in the works.

Though few minors live inside the Vatican, scores of children pass through every day, visiting the church's massive museum or touring St. Peter's Square.

Last year, the Associated Press reported on the Vatican City's absence of a child protection policy, and noted a 2012 case in which a teenager at a Vatican youth seminary had accused another boy of molesting his roommate. But the alleged victim was not interviewed, the AP reported, while the student who made the complaint was kicked out of the seminary.

This article was written by Chico Harlan, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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