Pope clarifies bishops' role in sex abuse cases

Pope Francis announced Saturday that bishops who fail to report cases of sex abuse of children and vulnerable adults could be removed from office.

The Catholic Church has been criticized for not holding bishops accountable for failing to act in cases of clerical sex abuse, and victims' families have been lobbying the Vatican to take a tougher stance on the issue.

In an apostolic letter published Saturday, the pope explained canon law already allows bishops to be removed "for serious reasons." But the Pope made clear that among those reasons is the failure of a bishop to report cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

"As a loving mother, the Church loves all her children, but treats and protects with a very particular affection the smaller and helpless. This is a task that Christ entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole. With this in mind, the Church is vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults," he wrote.

Bishops and other people in the Church's leadership must protect those "who are the weakest among the people entrusted to them," he wrote.

"In the case of abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, it is sufficient that the lack of care is serious," he wrote.

The Pope clarified that Vatican offices have the jurisdiction to remove bishops in such cases. They could urge the bishop to submit his resignation or they could issue a decree of removal, though the final decision rests with the Pope.

In the same letter, Francis also established a panel of legal experts to advise him on making the final decision regarding the removal of a bishop or superior in sexual abuse cases.

"Let us hear the cry of the victims and those suffering, no family without a home, no child without a childhood," the Pope commented later on Twitter.