The pronouncement, which signalled a change in Catholic Church law makes reporting of sexual cases obligatory for clerics and allows anyone to complain directly to the Vatican if necessary.
The papal decree, which covers abuse of children and adults, also obliges every Catholic diocese in the world to set up simple and accessible reporting systems and encourages local churches to involve lay experts in investigations.
The decree, whose preparation was reported first by Reuters in April, is the second such papal provision since a summit on abuse by senior Church bishops at the Vatican in February.
It sets time limits for local investigations and the Vatican’s response to them and allows for retroactive reporting.
It also says bishops with conflicts of interest should recuse themselves from investigations and that they can also be held accountable for abuse of power in sexual relations with adults.
The 19-article decree called “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (You Are the Light of the World), raises 16 to 18, the age of adulthood in cases of sexual abuse.
It also covers possession of child pornography.
The decree says local Church officials cannot order those, who report abuse to remain silent and that senior bishops should make provisions to prevent documents from being destroyed by subordinates if needed.
It directed that clerics should follow local law on whether they are obliged to report alleged sexual abuse to civil authorities.