A papal decree issued on Saturday says bishops who are negligent in sexual abuse cases may be removed from their office.
Church law already allows bishops to be fired for “grave reasons,” but this action specifies that those reasons include failing to adequately address sexual abuse.
“I intend to specify that among these so-called ‘serious reasons’ is the negligence of bishops in the exercise of their functions, especially in cases of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults,” Pope Francis wrote in the decree.
The move is meant to address a long-running issue of sexual abuse committed by priests, which has been the focus of heightened scrutiny over the last fifteen years.
A UN investigation in February 2014 called for the immediate dismissal of all priests accused of sexual abuse and said “that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”
Bishops have faced accusations of failing to report alleged abuse by priests to police, instead choosing to move them between parishes.
But critics say that his actions, including this new measure, do not go far enough to address the issue.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the new law was insufficient in holding abusers accountable.
“Instead of just sacking bad bishops, or turning over abuse records to law enforcement, the Vatican is setting up yet another untested, internal church ‘process’ to purportedly deal with bishops who ignore or conceal child sex crimes,” he said in a statement. “A ‘process’ is helpful only if it’s used often enough to deter wrongdoing. We doubt this one will be.”