Pope Francis makes reporting sex abuse mandatory for all Catholic churches

Pope Francis greets faithful during the weekly general audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis greets faithful during the weekly general audience at the Vatican

Advocates for sex abuse victims say a new Vatican law on reporting clerical sex abuse and church cover-ups of abuse is a step forward but much more needs to be done.

"First of all that leadership is not above the law", Scicluna said, "and second that leadership needs to know, all of us in leadership we need to know, that if the people love the Church they're going to denounce us when we do something wrong".

POPE Francis has issued a papal decree requiring all Catholic clerics to report cases of sexual abuse and cover-ups to the Vatican.

Local church officials now are obligated to "report promptly" any allegations of abuse and cover-up, with archbishops or clerics sending word to the Vatican, which has 30 days to decide whether to launch an investigation that itself must be finished within 90 days, reports Vatican News.

In the new law, every diocese around the world will be obliged by June 2020 to create a system for reporting of sexual abuse by clerics, the use of adult content and cover-ups of abuse.

The law now forces the USA conference to essentially start over in preparing new measures to hold one another accountable when bishops abuse or cover-up abuse.

The papal edict, named "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" (You Are the Light of the World), says the "norms apply without prejudice to the rights and obligations established in each place by state laws, particularly those concerning any reporting obligations to the competent civil authorities". Before, it was just a matter of individual conscience as to whether to report cases.

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's top sexual crimes investigator, told reporters the objective of that section was to mandate priests and nuns to report abuse within the church even in countries - including several in Latin America - where they are not obliged by civil law to do so.

While there are no punitive measures foreseen for noncompliance, bishops and religious superiors could be accused of cover-up or negligence if they fail to implement the provisions or retaliate against priests and nuns who make reports against them. And it outlines procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior.

For decades the Catholic Church has been plagued by a series of sex abuse scandals in different countries around the world.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican's bishops' office, said the inclusion of sex crimes involving adults was a clear reference to cases of sexual abuse of nuns and seminarians by their superiors - a scandal that has exploded recently following reports, including by The Associated Press and the Vatican's own women's magazine, of sisters being sexually assaulted by priests.

But crimes admitted during the sacrament of confession will remain exempt from the new church law. Cupich elaborated on it when he addressed Francis' February sex abuse summit, which the pope convened to demand a global response to the problem.

The procedures published Thursday are likely to form a key legal framework for US bishops when they meet in Baltimore June 11-13 to adopt new accountability procedures, though it will certainly force them to scrap their existing proposals and make them conform to the new law.

The new rules come into force on June 1 and will be re-evaluated after a three-year trial period.