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Pope announces rule holding bishops accountable for sex abuse, cover ups

Pope decrees bishops must be directly accountable for sex abuse or cover-ups

"I welcome the new motu proprio from Pope Francis with its clear procedures for the accountability of bishops and the protection of those who report abuse becoming the universal law of the Church", tweeted Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky.

When he was elected in 2013, he called for "decisive action" on abuse but critics say he has not done enough to hold to account bishops who allegedly engaged in cover ups.

Asked if countries where reporting is not obligatory should change their laws, he said: "The prudential thing I would tell every government is empower people to react and denounce crime".

The pope's mandate - which requires each diocese to set up a reporting system and obliges all clerics to promptly report abuse - is the church's latest response to its decades-long sexual abuse crisis that took down an American cardinal and rocked many USA dioceses, including Dallas, over the past year.

It calls for whistleblower protection, saying bishops with conflicts of interest in cases of cover-up should recuse themselves from investigations and that bishops can also be held accountable for abuse of power in sexual relations with adults. The new document establishes and clarifies norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable when it comes to safeguarding minors as well as abuses carried out against adults with violence, threats or an abuse of authority.

We now must see how the Vatican executes and enforces the new rules - especially because the laws can be applied retroactively against past cover-ups.

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The obligation for all clerics, and all men and women religious, to "report promptly" all accusations of abuse of which they become aware, as well as any omissions and cover-ups in the management of cases of abuse, to ecclesiastical authorities.

Religious officials also are expected to comply with civil laws regarding reporting sex abuse, according to the Vatican.

But victims of clerical abuse and their advocates are likely to be underwhelmed by the decree, which does not introduce penalties for priests or nuns who fail to report abuse or cover-ups and instead focus merely on reporting procedures.

The papal edict says the "norms apply without prejudice to the rights and obligations established in each place by state laws, particularly those concerning any reporting obligations to the competent civil authorities".

According to the provisions of the motu proprio, someone reporting abuse can not be subjected to "prejudice, retaliation or discrimination" because of what they report.

The sections dedicated to protecting those who come forward to report abuse are also significant.

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The law doesn't require them to report to police, as victims have demanded.

There are new indications regarding the role of the Metropolitan Archbishop in preliminary investigations: if the accused individual is a Bishop, the Metropolitan receives a mandate from the Holy See to investigate.

The principle of presumption of innocence of the person under investigation is reaffirmed.

National bishops' conferences should help dioceses figure out the best and most culturally appropriate ways to provide this form of outreach and service, if they have not done so already, he said.

With this new juridical instrument, the Catholic Church takes a further and incisive step in the prevention and fight against abuse, putting the emphasis on concrete actions.

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