Pope Francis has made it mandatory for Roman Catholic clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups to the Church.
In an Apostolic letter, which is set to become Church law, he makes clear that any sexual advance involving the use of power will now be considered abusive.
The clarification is seen as a message to the Church hierarchy that no-one will be exempted from scrutiny.
The Pope promised in February to take concrete action to tackle abuse.
“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 writes in the new Apostolic letter.
The Pope’s decree is meant to change the way the Church investigates cases of abuse.
For the first time, clerics and other Church officials will be obliged to disclose any allegations they may have heard. Previously, this had been left to each individual’s discretion.
Reports are expected to be made within 90 days to offices within Church dioceses. The decree also defines the covering-up of abuse as a specific category.
The Church’s senior leaders – its bishops – are specifically included in this. That is because in many documented cases bishops covered up crimes of priests who reported to them. The decree does not change the penalties for crimes committed.