Pope Francis issued new global rules Thursday for reporting sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, mandating for the first time that all dioceses set up systems for reporting abuse and cover-ups.
Francis told 850 superiors of religious orders gathered at the Vatican for the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, the main umbrella group of nuns, that theirs is a vocation of service, not servitude.
"Until this point, the church has not had a good track record in reporting abuse, protecting whistleblowers or referring reports to police and law enforcement".
The new mandate will cover almost 450,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 nuns across the globe.
The guidelines further cover "actions or omissions meant to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical [Church] investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious" for sexual abuse.
Pope Francis admitting publicly in February that priests have used nuns as "sexual slaves" - and may still be doing so.
"We have said for years that priests should follow certain strict rules, so why should bishops and other members of the church hierarchy be exempt?" said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops.
Before Thursday's decree, reporting abuse was a matter of individual conscience for the world's priests and nuns.
The new law - which covers abuse of both children and adults - also promises protection for whistle-blowers and requires every Catholic diocese around the world to have a system in place to handle allegations confidentially.
"The new Vatican laws concerning the reporting of sexual abuse continue the secrecy which has enabled clergy sexual abuse to exist, allows the Catholic Church to continue to ineffectively self-police and basically discourages victims from just calling the police", Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has specialized in abuse cases and was portrayed in the movie Spotlight by Stanley Tucci, said in a statement shared with PEOPLE.
The law makes clear he can use lay experts to help, a key provision that is already used in many dioceses.
"Pope Francis" Motu Proprio, "Vos estis lux mundi, ' establishes new procedures for reporting abuse and violence, and ensures that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions", the Vatican news release said.
The papal document also targets the production and possession of child pornography.
The Church was rocked by the conviction on charges of sex abuse of Australian cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranked Vatican official to be convicted.
The decree further says local clerics can not order those who report abuse to remain silent and that senior bishops should make provisions to prevent documents from being destroyed by subordinates if needed.
Many local Catholic Churches have been hit by sex-abuse scandals since they erupted on a large scale in Boston in 2002 with revelations that church leaders there had moved sexual abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them.
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