On Friday, Pope Francis changed the way that bishops and cardinals who work in the Vatican will be tried if suspected of criminal activity, ruling that they will be judged by the same lay tribunal that judges other criminal cases. 

NPR reported: “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 cassation.” 

As reported by Reuters, there have been multiple cases in the past few years where non-clergy, lay people involved in criminal investigations were judged and sentenced by the regular tribunal, which is composed of non-clerics. Cardinals who were caught up in the same cases, however, were either not judged or were treated in a special way.

The outlet reported that in the preface to the decree, Francis said civil law inside the Vatican, which is a sovereign, independent city-state, should be “without privileges that go back in time and are no longer consonant” with individual responsibilities.

The alterations are expected to mainly apply to crimes that are financial in nature and the pope will still need to approve the initiation of any trial or investigation.

As Reuters reported, “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,” Francis wrote in an apostolic letter.

The move is Francis’ most recent attempt to make changes to the Vatican after being elected in 2013. Earlier last week, Francis made changes to financial rules and prohibited Vatican employees from accepting gifts that amount to more than 40 euros (around $49). The adjustment to the financial rules is another measure to create transparency within the church and potentially cut down on corruption. In recent years, the act of giving gifts among Catholic clerics was an issue that led to multiple scandals, Reuters reported

Societal shifts have pushed the Catholic Church into the public conversation in recent years. As reported by The Daily Wire earlier this year, the Vatican declared that the Catholic Church cannot bless gay unions because God “cannot bless sin.” 

Pope Francis, meanwhile, supports “providing gay couples with legal protections in same-sex unions, but that is in reference to the civil sphere, not within the church,” The Associated Press reported

In an interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa in 2019, Francis said: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.” The pope also said of families with gay children, “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

The White House later commented on the Vatican’s stance. A reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about President Joe Biden’s response regarding the Vatican’s decision not to bless same-sex unions due to the fact that Biden is a devout Catholic. 

“I don’t think he has a personal response to the Vatican,” Psaki said at the time. “He continues to believe and support same-sex unions, as you know, and he’s long had that position.”