This past Friday, Pope Francis issued changes to the way that bishops and cardinals who stay and work at the Vatican will be tried if they are suspected of any criminal wrongdoing. The new ruling states that these high-ranking clergy will be judged by the same lay tribunal that judges all other criminals in the Vatican.
NPR stated in a report: “Under the law published Friday, Vatican-based high prelates who work in the Holy See will be tried by the lay court that also hears criminal cases. They will no longer be given special judicial treatment by a body made up of high-ranking clergy members known as the court of cessation.”
Reuters stated in a report that there have been multiple cases throughout the past few years that have seen non-clergy, lay people involved in criminal investigations that were overseen, judged, and sentenced by the regular tribunal which is entirely comprised of people outside the clergy. Any cardinals who were also caught up in the same such cases were either not judged or received exclusive special treatment.
Reuters stated that in the face of this new decree, Pope Francis stated that civil law inside the Vatican, which is a completely sovereign and independent city-state, should work with “without privileges that go back in time and are no longer consonant” with individual responsibilities.
These new decrees are supposedly going to apply to mainly crimes that are financial in nature and the pope himself will need to approve the initiation of any trial or investigation.
Reuters went on to report, “While the changes will make it easier for Vatican-based cardinals and bishops to be investigated and prosecuted, they also broaden protections by giving them two chances to appeal, Church legal experts said.”
“Today there is a need to proceed with some further changes to the judicial system of the Vatican City State, also in order to ensure that everyone has a judgment articulated in several degrees and in line with the dynamics followed by the most advanced legal experiences at international level,” Pope Francis stated in an apostolic letter.
This decision marks Pope Francis’ most recent move to attempt making changes to the Vatican as a whole after being elected to the papacy in 2013. Earlier this past week, Pope Francis issued changes to the financial rules and stopped Vatican employees from taking gifts that amount to more than a total of 40 euros( equivalent to around $49 USD). This adjustment to the set financial rules is being seen as another measure of transparency within the church and hopefully cut down on and root out corruption. Throughout the past few years, the act of gift-giving among Catholic clergy was an issue that led to multiple scandals, Reuters stated.