The Roman Catholic Church’s approximately one million clergy must report all suspicions of sexual abuse by church leaders at any and all levels, Pope Francis ordered on Thursday in a landmark decree.
Each diocese or district of church governance must set up clear and accessible reporting systems by June 2020, the pope declared, in a bid to tackle the sexual abuses that have called the church’s moral authority into question and seriously damaged its reputation.
“We have said for years that priests should follow certain strict rules, so why should bishops and other members of the Church hierarchy be exempt?” said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops.
Hundreds of abuse scandals have rocked the church globally, with a pattern emerging over the past decade of bishops failing to refer clergy accused of sexual abuses to state police authorities and instead moving them to a different area to continue their pastoral work.
As a result of the decree, bishops will be directly accountable for sexual abuse and any cover-ups. The edict also obliges priests and nuns to report all suspicion of abuse by clerics at any level.
But crimes admitted during the sacrament of confession will remain exempt from the new church law. Survivors’ groups have called for the Vatican to make reporting of suspected abuse to police mandatory – but the Vatican says church law cannot override local civil law.