Pope Francis has read the riot act on rogue priests preying on innocent members of the church.
This comes against a backdrop of widespread allegations of priests sodomizing altar boys living in their parishes.
Every diocese in the world will now be obliged to have a system for the reporting of abuse, under a new law published by the Vatican — but the requirement will not apply to secrets revealed to priests in the confessional.
It is time to learn from the “bitter lessons of the past”, Francis said in the text of the legal decree.
It follows a series of clerical assault cases in countries ranging from Australia to Chile, Germany and the US.
“Though this obligation was formerly left up to individual consciences, it now becomes a universally established legal precept” within the Church, said Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Vatican’s communications department.
The law only applies within the Church and has no force to oblige individuals to report abuse to civil authorities.
Under the new measure, every diocese around the world is obliged by June 2020 to create a system for the reporting of sexual abuse by clerics, the use of child pornography and cover-ups of abuse.
The document focuses particularly on the sexual or psychological abuse of children and vulnerable adults, but also targets sexual abuse and violence resulting from an abuse of authority — such as the exploitation of nuns by priests.
Pope Francis admitting publicly in February that priests have used nuns as “sexual slaves” — and may still be doing so.
Victims’ groups have long called for Francis to put in place concrete measures to tackle clerical child abuse, including immediately firing any cleric found guilty of even a single act of abuse, or of covering it up.
They also want all abusers or suspected abusers to be reported to police, and any abuse-related files handed over to them.