Bishops worldwide were instructed by the Vatican on Monday to cooperate with police in reporting priests who rape and molest children. The Vatican said bishops should develop their own guidelines for preventing sex abuse by May 2012.
But critics contend that the latest instructions in the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are much too vague and non-binding.
In particular, critics say, the instructions contain no enforcement mechanisms to ensure that bishops actually draft guidelines or follow them.
It's a puzzling omission, critics say, given that bishops in the US and Ireland have been frequently been accused of failing to cooperate with law enforcement in multiple cases.
The new document is intended to demonstrate that the Vatican means business about preventing abuse following a two decade long global scandal with thousands of victims coming forward worldwide.
However victims advocate groups were unimpressed. Having long blamed bishops for protecting the church and its priests at the expense of its victims, they see the latest move as cosmetic, at best.
"There's nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year," Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the main U.S. victims group Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, told CBS NEWS.
In the document, the Vatican told the bishops that "it is important to cooperate" with civil law enforcement authorities and follow civil reporting requirements, however it does not make such reporting mandatory.
The Vatican argues that such a binding rule could be problematic for priests working in countries with repressive regimes. It did not mention possible financial compensation for victims.
At the weekend human rights group Amnesty International listed the Vatican in its annual report of global human rights abuses. Amnesty claimed that revelations of worldwide clerical abuse and the "enduring failure" of the church to address the crimes properly have not been successfully addressed.
"Such failures included not removing alleged perpetrators from their posts pending proper investigations, not co-operating with judicial authorities to bring them to justice and not ensuring proper reparation to victims," Amnesty said in its report.
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