Priests, nuns must report sex abuse; Omaha archbishop says Pope Francis demanding accountability

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking law Thursday requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-up by their superiors to church authorities.

The new church law is an effort to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for failing to protect their flocks.

It provides whistleblower protections for anyone making a report and requires all dioceses around the world to have a system in place to receive the claims confidentially. And it outlines procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior.

“The Holy Father is demanding that bishops, priests and deacons be held accountable for misconduct, and he has given the Church a structure for reporting and investigating,” Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said in a statement. “He is making sure victims worldwide will be heard, receive the care they deserve and that offenders are held accountable.”

The archdiocese also noted that nothing in the new law interferes with systems established by the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted by the Archdiocese of Omaha in 2002.

A review board made up of clergy and lay members already assists the archdiocese in examining allegations of sexual abuse against minors.

A new ministerial conduct board will be added in June to review allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse against adults.

The law provides a new legal framework for U.S. bishops to use as they prepare to adopt accountability measures next month to respond to the sex-abuse and cover-up scandal.

Lucas said he looks forward to working with the U.S. bishops in June “to spell out how bishops are to be held accountable.”

The law makes the world’s 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 religious sisters mandated reporters. That means they are required to inform church authorities when they learn or have “well-founded motives to believe” that a cleric or sister has engaged in sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct with an adult, possession of child pornography — or that a superior has covered up any of those crimes.

Marie Collins, a survivor of abuse and victims’ advocate, is dissatisfied that there are no sanctions for noncompliance. She also is critical of the law for not requiring Catholic officials to report sex abuse cases to police.

In a phone interview, she said: “That hasn’t advanced in any way.”