Pope Francis has issued new guidelines that would remove bishops from office if they allow priests under their supervision to sexually abuse others—a move long sought by reformers who have criticized the Roman Catholic church for moving too cautiously to prevent further abuses.
The new papal law applies to cases where bishops have, “through negligence, committed or omitted acts,” “caused grave harm to others, either with regard to physical persons, or with regard to the community itself,” according to the Vatican News Network. A Vatican spokesman said it emphasized “the importance of vigilant care for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”
Existing laws within the Catholic Church already allow for bishops to be removed for negligence. However, the new law makes it clear that failing to prevent abuse cases falls under the list of “grave causes” that could lead to a bishop’s dismissal, according to the Holy See press office.
The new law —which has the Italian name “Come una madre amorevole” (“Like a loving mother”)— ”appears to represent a significant moment in the worldwide church’s decades-long clergy sexual abuse crisis,” the National Catholic Reporter reported.
Although Pope Francis has been progressive on issues like income inequality and climate change, his stance on the sexual abuse scandal has not always pleased his followers. Last year, the Pope said bishops in the US had demonstrated “courage” for the way they had handled the scandal so far, drawing widespread outrage.