US Catholic bishops have approved new rules that require clergy to report suspicions of sexual assault against children, as the Catholic Church struggles with an ongoing sexual abuse crisis.
At a meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on Thursday in Baltimore, Maryland, participants approved by a large majority the changes to the US catechism, a series of teachings used as religious instruction.
Under the new measure, every diocese around the world is obliged by June 2020 to create a system for the reporting of sexual abuse by clerics, the use of child pornography and cover-ups of abuse.
Until now, clergy only reported sexual abuse according to their own consciences. The new law only applies within the Church and has no force to oblige individuals to report abuse to civil authorities.
The Catholic Church is in the midst of a major crisis of confidence in the United States and around the world, with multiple revelations of sexual assault and abuse committed by priests over the course of decades, mostly targeting children.
Those priests were largely protected from prosecution by their superiors.
In August 2018, a damning report from a grand jury in the state of Pennsylvania revealed that over 300 “predator” priests had allegedly abused more than 1,000 children during a period of seven decades.
That scandal forced the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as a bishop in Pennsylvania and was blamed for not doing enough to deal with pedophile priests.
Another influential US cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, was dismissed from the clergy earlier this year by the Vatican over accusations that he sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s.
In July 2018, the New York Times published a story detailing a pattern of sexual abuse of teenage boys and male seminarians by McCarrick.
However, the Catholic Church is not the only one under scrutiny in the United States. Delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s national meeting voted Tuesday to make it easier to expel churches that mishandle abuse cases.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination with 15 million members.