CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

Print Version    Email to Friend
Vatican state gets a legal update

VATICAN (SE): A Motu Proprio (papal order) signed by Pope Francis on July 11 will update criminal and civil law within the Vatican State and is specifically aimed at incorporating provisions of international conventions that the Vatican has put its name to.

They include the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 on the conduct of war crimes; the 1965 convention on racial discrimination, the 1984 convention against torture and the 1989 convention of the rights of a child, including the 2000 optional protocols.

These specifically include trafficking of children, child prostitution, child labour, sexual acts with children and child pornography.

The overhaul of the Vatican legal system was begun by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 and introduces new areas into the law books, including a system of direct penalties for juridical persons profiting from criminal activities of their constituent bodies or personnel.

The Motu Proprio, which literally translates as on his own impulse, reinforces the presumption of innocent until proven guilty and the right to trial within a reasonable timeframe.

It also allows for the freezing of assets, a clause that is maybe the first to be used, as the Institute for Religious Works has frozen all assets belonging to Monsignor Nuzio Scarano, who is under investigation for money laundering.

It has also brought Vatican provisions on international juridical cooperation up to date, giving it the ability to cooperate better on the international scene by incorporating accepted standards of international conventions.

In giving his rationale for the Motu Proprio, Pope Francis says that the Vatican legal system must be compatible with generally accepted world standards, allowing international cooperation in the law enforcement business.

He writes, “In our times, the common good is increasingly threatened by transnational organised crime, the improper use of markets and of the economy, as well as terrorism.”

The Vatican now has a law on security. In its absence, the convicted Vatileaks papal butler, Paolo Gabriele, could only be charged with aggravated robbery, not a security breach. 

It also gives a clear definition of who is covered by Vatican law, including juridical entities, and states that all Vatican prescriptions apply fully to the Holy See as well.

On the belief that life imprisonment is an inhumane sentence, the maximum punishment for any crime has been set at 35 years in prison and the purpose of incarceration is defined as rehabilitation and not simply punitive.


The provisions of the Vatican Criminal Code are separate from those of Canon Law. However, depending on circumstance, a penalty could be applied from both codes.

More from this section