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The pope is taking sexual abuse seriously

Pope Francis is telling Roman Catholic leaders they must do what most people — including the overwhelming majority of the church’s faithful — would do without being told: Report cases of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to the police.

A long awaited manual of guidance from the Vatican, directed toward Catholic bishops, has been released. It accomplishes two important things.

First, the directive makes no bones about it: Bishops must report sexual abuse to the authorities, whether they are required by law to do so or not.

Here in the United States, virtually every jurisdiction has statutes requiring such transparency and accountability. That is not so everywhere in the world, however. The pope’s guidance makes it clear the church views sexual abuse as a crime requiring law enforcement action.

No less important is the manual’s second effect: It affirms the pope’s dedication to ridding the church of predators shielded by Catholic hierarchy. If anything, the fact that for so long church officials actively protected predators — insisting they could rehabilitate them — is as outrageous as the offenders’ own actions.

It should not have taken so long for the Vatican to issue the new guidance, which replaces a previous rule that mandated reporting to the authorities only where the law required it. Now that the new rule is out, however, it makes a more powerful statement — in effect, that the church demands accountability even when the law might allow it to be escaped.

Good. Now, Pope Francis should take the next step, which is to punish Catholic bishops who do not comply with the guidance severely.

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