The Pope has issued new guidelines making it mandatory for Roman Catholic clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse or attempts to cover it up.
In his Apostolic letter, "Vos estis lux mundi", Pope Francis said suspected abuse was to be reported to the Holy See but also to the "competent civil authorities".
"The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful," the Pope said.
"In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church's mission."
The letter outlines three forms of abuse where clergy are to take action:
- "Forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts"
- "Performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person"
- "Production, exhibition, possession or distribution... of child p*rnography" and "the recruitment of or inducement of a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in p*rnographic exhibitions"
In addition to these, they are to report "actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical [Church] investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious" for sexual abuse.
The guidelines have been welcomed by Catholic leaders and commentators.
The Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge called them a "nice surprise" on Twitter.
"The Rome meeting of Conference Presidents et al in February begins to bear real fruit...I always thought it would but didn't quite see this coming," he said.
James Martin, editor of the Jesuit American Magazine said: "Finally. The Pope's sweeping new directive on combating clergy sex abuse, 'Vos estis lux mundi,' has two important qualities missing in many previous Vatican efforts. First, it's authoritative. Second, it provides for measures when bishops are accused of abuse."