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Pope Francis issues new Vatican City law for reporting sex abuse allegations

If the allegations are not immediately reported, church officials can be fined or face jail time.
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Pope Francis on Friday issued a new law that for the first time requires Vatican personnel and diplomats of Vatican City to immediately report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities.

Outside of minors, the legislation also applies to "vulnerable adults" with mental and physical challenges or those who cannot defend themselves against a crime. This is the first time the Vatican has made it a requirement for officials in the Roman Catholic Church to report sex abuse claims. The policy applies only to Vatican City, but is aimed at being a model for the church worldwide.

If the allegations are not immediately reported, they can be fined or face jail time.

The pope also created a counseling service for victims of sexual abuse so they can receive psychological and medical help from “qualified personnel."

At a summit in February, Francis called abuse a "scourge" and urged bishops to “listen to the cry of the children who ask for justice."

Around 190 senior Catholic bishops and religious leaders joined the pontiff at the four-day worldwide summit in the Vatican in hopes of tackling how the church handles claims of priests sexually abusing minors.

During the conference, the pope announced that he would be issuing a new law on reporting abuse, as well as guidelines to help bishops around the world understand how to handle different situations, and the creation of task forces designed to help dioceses around the world respond to and prevent abuse.

"No abuse should ever be covered up as was often the case in the past or not taken sufficiently seriously, since the covering up of abuses favors the spread of evil and adds a further level of scandal," Francis said during a speech at the summit Feb. 24.

The conference began days after Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop in Washington, D.C., and Newark, New Jersey, was expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood after an internal investigation found that sex abuse claims against him were credible.

McCarrick, who was accused of abusing two children decades ago and coercing adult seminarians to sleep with him, became one of the highest-ranking Americans to be removed from public ministry.

Phil Saviano, who played a crucial role in the Boston Globe's investigation unveiling abuse in the church in the United States during the 1990s, told NBC News in February that there are more than 6,000 priests in America who have been reported for sex abuse.

"I want to know who are these men, where are they and who is watching over them," he said.