Pope Francis Modifies Vatican Criminal Code, Citing ‘Changing Sensibilities’

Several of the changes introduced by Pope Francis involve the treatment of the defendant in a criminal trial, including the possibility of a reduced sentence for good behavior and of not being handcuffed in court.

View of St. Peter's Basilica inside Vatican City.
View of St. Peter's Basilica inside Vatican City. (photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk. / Shutterstock)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Tuesday made several modifications to the Vatican’s criminal code, citing “changing sensibilities” requiring updates to an “outdated” law.

“Needs that have emerged, even recently, in the criminal justice sector, with the consequent repercussions on the activity of those who, for various reasons, are interested in it, require constant attention to reformulate the current substantive and procedural legislation,” the pope wrote in the introduction to his Feb. 16 motu proprio.

The law is affected, he said, by “inspiring criteria and functional solutions [which are] now outdated.”

Thus, Pope Francis said, he continued the process of updating the law as dictated “by the changing sensibilities of the times.”

Several of the changes introduced by Pope Francis involve the treatment of the defendant in a criminal trial, including the possibility of a reduced sentence for good behavior and of not being handcuffed in court.

An addendum to article 17 in the penal code states that if the condemned person, during his sentence, “has behaved in such a way as to imply his repentance and has profitably participated in the treatment and reintegration program,” his sentence may be reduced from between 45 to 120 days for each year of the sentence served.

It adds that before beginning a sentence, the offender may draw up an agreement with the judge for a treatment and integration program with the specific commitment to “eliminate or mitigate the consequences of the crime,” by actions such as restoring damages or carrying out voluntary social work, “as well as conduct aimed at promoting, where possible, mediation with the injured person.”

Article 376 is replaced with new wording stating that the defendant under arrest will not be handcuffed at the trial, with other precautions being taken to prevent escape.

Pope Francis also said that, in an addition to article 379, if, however, the defendant is unable to attend the hearing for “legitimate and serious impediment, or if due to mental infirmity he is unable to provide for his own defense,” the hearing will be suspended or postponed.

If the defendant refuses to attend a hearing in the trial, without having a “legitimate and serious impediment,” the hearing will continue as if the defendant were present, and he or she will be represented by the defense lawyer.

Another change is that the court’s judgment in a trial can be made with the defendant “in absentia” and will be treated in the ordinary way.

These changes may affect the Vatican’s impending trial of the 39-year-old Italian woman Cecilia Marogna, who has been accused of embezzlement, which she denies.

In January, the Vatican announced that it had dropped a request for Marogna’s extradition from Italy to the Vatican, and said that a trial against her would begin soon.

The Vatican’s statement noted that Marogna had refused to appear for questioning during the preliminary investigation, but the court had dropped the extradition order to allow her “to participate in the trial in the Vatican, free from the pending precautionary measure against her.”

It remains an open question whether Marogna, who has lodged complaints with Italian courts for alleged crimes against her in connection with her arrest last October, will be present to defend herself at the Vatican’s trial.

Pope Francis also made several amendments and additions to the judicial system of Vatican City State, dealing mostly with procedure, such as allowing a magistrate from within the office of the promoter of justice to carry out the functions of a public prosecutor in appeal hearings and judgments.

Pope Francis also added a paragraph to state that upon termination of their duties, ordinary magistrates of the Vatican City State will “retain all rights, assistance, social security, and guarantees provided for citizens.”

In the criminal procedure code, the motu proprio states that the pope has also repealed articles 282, 472, 473, 474, 475, 476, 497, 498, and 499 in the criminal procedure code.

The changes go into effect immediately.

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