Pope Francis Approves Tribunal to Judge Sex-Abuse Cover Ups

Pope Francis on Wednesday approved an unprecedented Vatican department to judge bishops accused of covering up or not preventing sexual abuse of minors, an attempt to meet a key demand by victims' groups.

A statement said the department would come under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal arm, "to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors."

Victims groups have for years been urging the Vatican to establish clear procedures to make bishops more accountable for abuse in their dioceses, even if they were not directly responsible for it.

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Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters that the bishops could also be judged if they had failed to take measures to prevent sexual abuse of minors.

The complaints against the bishops would be initially investigated by one of three Vatican departments, depending on under whose jurisdiction the bishops fall, before being judged by the doctrinal department.

Last February, Francis ordered bishops the world over to cooperate as a matter of priority with the commission to root out "the scourge" of the sexual abuse even if it unearths new scandals.

Image: Pope Francis looks on during his general audience
Pope Francis looks on during his general audience at St Peter's square on June 11, 2014 at the Vatican. VINCENZO PINTO / AFP - Getty Images, file