Religion
The changes to protect whistleblowers come after years of pressure and numerous child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church around the world.
Photo: Long-Thiên/Flickr

Pope Francis signed off on a new law for the Catholic Church on Thursday to hold bishops accountable for sexual abuse or for covering it up.

The changes to protect whistleblowers come after years of pressure and numerous child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church around the world.

What is in the new church law:

  • All priests, nuns and other clerics are required to "promptly" report cases of child or adult sex abuse to Catholic Church authorities.
  • They are required to report as well if they suspect a clergy member has child pornography or that a superior covered up any sexual misconduct or sexual abuse.
  • Dioceses around the world are required to have a system in place to confidentially receive the claims and victims must be welcomed and supported.
  • Complaints can be reported directly to the Vatican if needed.
  • Clerics should follow local laws on whether they are required to report alleged sexual abuse to law enforcement.

Learn from the bitter lessons of the past'

In the introduction to the new church law, Francis said that "concrete and effective actions" involving everyone in the Catholic Church are needed to combat sexual abuse in the future.

"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful," he wrote.

"Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future," Francis added.

Stopping short of victims' demands: 

Victims and their families have long criticized that bishops and others in the church hierarchy have escaped justice for either committing abuse or covering it up, as well as failing to protect their congregations from predatory priests.

They've called on the church for years to put concrete measures in place to tackle the problem. The measures outlined in Francis' law fall short of demands from victims' groups calling for offending clerics to be immediately fired, or for abuse reported to a priest during a confession to be reported.

Confronting sex abuse

Thursday's sweeping law was the latest effort by Francis to address sex abuse and church cover-up scandals that have rocked numerous countries around the world, including: the United States, Ireland, ChileAustralia,Poland and Germany.

Bishops and other religious superiors are only accountable to the pope. Only a few have been removed from their posts or sanctioned after serious reports of misconduct became public.