The Roman Catholic Church has published guidelines for its senior clergy on how to handle cases of child abuse by priests.
The guidelines, written in Latin, wereissued last year, but only published on Tuesday as part of the Acts ofthe Apostolic See, the Vatican's official legislation record.
They state that suspected cases should immediately be reported to Rome,so the Vatican can determine the course of action - although they donot outline what could happen to those found guilty or whether civilauthorities should be told.
Wehope that not only will these serious crimes be avoided, but, aboveall, that the holiness of the clergy and the faithful be protected
Letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
In recent high-profile scandals,courts in France and the US found senior Roman Catholic clergy guiltyof covering up child abuse by priests.
Accompanying the guidelines was a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, leader of the Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith - which deals with matters of faith and morals
"With this letter, we hope that not only will these seriouscrimes be avoided, but, above all, that the holiness of theclergy and the faithful be protected," it said.
The document said bishops and heads ofreligious orders must inform Rome if they discover "even a hint" ofpaedophilia by a priest and launch an investigation.
The Vatican will now deal with the problem directly
Clergymen involved in sexual abusecases will then go before either a local ecclesiastical court or theVatican Congregation itself which will be the appeal court in eithercase.
The hearing will all be held in secret.
As a result, the Vatican will control the problem directly, instead of it being left in the domain of national churches.
In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has been hit by a number of scandals involving paedophile priests.
Last September, a French court handeddown a three-month suspended jail term to the Bishop of Bayeaux forfailing to inform police that a priest in his diocese had admittedsexual abuse.
And two years ago the Catholic diocese of Dallas in Texas was found to have concealed a priest's sexual abuse of boys.
The victims were awarded $119.6m in damages - then the largest award given in a sexual abuse case.
In November 2001, the first evere-mail sent by the Pope over the Internet was a 120-page document whichcontained apologies to victims of sexual abuse by clergy members.