Pope Benedict has told bishops around the world to promptly report all suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests to local police in new guidelines he has issued.
Set out in a letter, the guidelines are the latest effort to eradicate child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
It incorporates sweeping revisions made last year to the Church’s laws on sexual abuse.
But victims’ groups are critical of the move, saying it does not go far enough.
The letter is intended to help every diocese draw up its own guidelines, based on a global approach, but in line with local criminal law. These must be sent to the Vatican for review within a year.
“Sex abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict [crime], but also a crime prosecuted by civil law”, the letter said, stressing that local civil law “should always be followed”.
The new guidelines say bishops should seek to protect minors and help victims of paedophile priests find assistance and reconciliation.