“It can’t be too strict,” he said. “Because otherwise it will be inoperative.”
Soon after he was elected in 2013, Francis suggested that he would remedy the erosion of trust caused by the abuse scandals, but change has been slow. Instead, Francis has occasionally stumbled, saying at times that he believed bishops over victims, pulling the plug on a new church body intended to hold bishops accountable and failing to take decisive action.
Many victims of sexual abuse have said that they consider his talk empty. Their anger boiled over last year, amid grand jury reports and investigations into widespread clerical abuse in the United States, where one of the country’s top cardinals, Theodore E. McCarrick, was ultimately kicked out of the priesthood by Francis for his abuse. Scandals also flared up in Chile and in Australia, where Cardinal George Pell, a former close adviser of Francis and top Vatican official, was sentenced in March to six years in prison for sexual abuse.
Enemies of Francis within the church, who think his inclusive approach is damaging, have seized on the abuse crisis as a cudgel, at one point demanding the pope’s resignation for his covering up of Mr. McCarrick’s actions and those of other abusive clerics. That allegation has not been proved.
In response to the pressure, Francis this year convened a landmark meeting in the Vatican with global church leaders to educate them about a widespread phenomenon that many of them still denied, played down or seemed to misunderstand.
The Vatican press office said the law announced on Thursday was the product of reflection during and after the February meeting, and represented “a further commitment of the church in this area.”
Supporters of Francis, including his chief experts on tackling sexual abuse, expressed belief that, unless the pope had cooperation from the bishops, the law risked going unheeded, eroding his authority and leaving the scourge of abuse unaddressed.