Pope Francis has introduced a new law that states that members of the clergy must report cases of child abuse and cover ups.
Up until now reporting allegations had been left to the discretion of church officials.
The papal decree is titled ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’ – which means You Are the Light of the World.
It says that Catholic clerics will be allowed a 90-day limit to make a report to the Vatican if the come across information about abuse and cover ups, as well as possession or creation of indecent images.
The 19-article decree states that whistle-blowers will be protected but insists that every Catholic diocese in the world must have an effective system in place for people to come forward confidentially if they have information.
Bishops who have a conflict of interests must recuse themselves from a case. If they or any church officials attempt to interfere with civil or canonical investigations, they will become subject to investigations themselves.
Senior bishops must make provisions to prevent evidence being destroyed by their subordinates and local officials must not order someone who has reported abuse to remain silent.
The papal decree only states that suspects must be reported to the Vatican – not the police. The Vatican says this is because doing so could put people’s lives at risk in places where Catholics are a persecuted minority.
It also stops short of outlining any plans for financial compensation to victims. It states victims of abuse must be offered spiritual, medical and psychological support.
It also fails to state what penalties will be faced by priests or nuns if they fail to report any abuse or cover ups.
The rules will come into force on 1st June and will run on a trial basis for three years, after which they will be re-evaluated.