Pope Francis vows to fight 'grave problem' of nun sexual abuse

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The impact "likely will be felt most intensely outside the West, since places such as the US, Canada and some parts of Western Europe (though, ironically, not the pope's backyard in Italy), already have fairly robust reporting systems", said Vatican expert John Allen, on the online religious newspaper Crux Now.

In an Apostolic Letter published on Thursday, which is set to become church law, the pontiff said that whistleblowers will be granted protection and that dioceses worldwide will be required to have a system in place to preserve the anonymity and confidentiality of those submitting the claims.

Anderson worries that the law is nothing more than risky lip service because it doesn't require clergy to report findings to police. Those reporting must be protected from any "prejudice, retaliation or discrimination".

Local church officials now are obligated to "report promptly" any allegations of abuse and cover-up, with archbishops or clerics sending word to the Vatican, which has 30 days to decide whether to launch an investigation that itself must be finished within 90 days, reports Vatican News.

Ouellet told Osservatore Romano that it's significant that "besides the abuses on the minors and on the vulnerable adults that the harassment or violence of abuse of power also be reported".

Most dioceses in the United States and Europe already have these systems, and the new norms will likely be more important in countries where there are not already well-established guidelines for reporting and handling sexual abuse.

But the procedures do for the first time put into universal church law that clergy must obey civil reporting requirements where they live, and that their obligation to report to the church in no way interferes with that. And it outlines internal procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior.

She said: "A law without penalties is not a law at all".

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Pope Francis's decree aims to tackle the widespread problems over sex abuse in the church.

"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.

Once the investigation is over, the metropolitan sends the results to the Vatican for a decision on how to proceed.

Victims and their advocates have long complained that bishops and religious superiors have escaped justice for having engaged in sexual misconduct themselves, or failed to protect their flocks from predator priests. The metropolitan reports the accusations to Rome, which then empowers him to investigate.

Juan Carlos Claret, head of a group of lay Catholics in Chile, says he thinks another key weakness is the law keeps abuse reports and investigations within the church instead of requiring that crimes be reported to police.

In a statement, DiNardo says US committees are already working on preparing measures to implement the new law.

We now must see how the Vatican executes and enforces the new rules - especially because the laws can be applied retroactively against past cover-ups.

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