Catholic bishops who fail to sack paedophile priests can be removed from office under new church laws announced by Pope Francis.
The move, announced by the pope on Saturday, answers a long-running demand by victims of abuse to make bishops responsible if they fail to stop clergy sexually abusing parishioners.
Is the pope serious about confronting child abuse?
Many have long accused bishops of simply moving priests accused of abuse to another parish, rather than report them to police or church authorities.
While acknowledging that church laws already allowed for a bishop to be removed for negligence, Francis said he wanted the “grave reasons” more precisely defined. However, doubts remain about the Vatican’s commitment to tackling the issue.
The move comes shortly after the pontiff moved to defend a French cardinal accused of covering up abuse. Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, is facing criticism for his handling of allegations made against Bernard Preynat, a priest in the diocese who has been charged with sexually abusing boys.
Investigators have not yet decided whether to bring charges against Barbarin, who travelled to the Vatican on 20 May for a private meeting with Francis and has denied any wrongdoing. The pope has said it would be “imprudent” to call for the cardinal’s resignation while the case continued, arguing if he did so it “would amount to an admission of guilt”.
“Based on the information that I have, I believe that Cardinal Barbarin in Lyon took the necessary measures and that he has matters under control. He is courageous, creative, a missionary. We now need to await the outcome of the civil judicial proceedings,” Francis told Catholic newspaper La Croix last month.
Closer to home, the pope faces a key test next week in choosing whether to hold onto his financial chief, Cardinal George Pell, who has been accused of covering up historical abuse in Australia. Pell appeared in February before the country’s royal commission into institutional responses to abuse, during which he denied knowledge of priests abusing children as he rose through the ranks of the Catholic church.
The cardinal was appointed head of the secretariat for the economy in 2014 and reaches the official retirement age of 75 on Wednesday. While the date marks an opportunity for Francis to appoint a successor, the pope is expected to reject Pell’s customary resignation and request he continue as the Vatican’s financial tsar.
Juan Barros was appointed a bishop in Chile in March 2015. He had been accused of ignoring reports of abuse by Father Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest who was found guilty of molestation by the Vatican in 2011. Victims claimed Barros not only helped cover up the crimes, but in some instances observed the abuse. Barros has denied the allegations and the Vatican said he had the church’s support.
Peter Saunders, a British abuse survivor who sits on a papal commission to protect children, said Francis had been vocal about the abuse scandals. However, he criticised the church’s handling of another case in Missouri, where bishop Robert Finn has remained in power even after being convicted of failing to report clerical child sex abuse.
A former Vatican ambassador, Józef Wesołowski, died before he was due to go on trial at the Vatican for possessing child pornography.
During his visit to the US last September, the pontiff met victims of Catholic church sex abuse and vowed that those responsible would face justice. It was the first time Francis had met abuse victims outside of Rome, where he had done so once before. The pope had already apologised for the church’s inadequate response to the US abuse crisis.
The scandal has severely tarnished the church’s reputation and cost $3bn (£2bn) in settlements in the US.