The Vatican's chief prosecutor of sex abuse crimes said the church needs to do more to develop the process for punishing bishops who fail in their duty to protect children.
U.S. Father Robert W. Oliver, promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the church does have "procedures to deal with bishops who are negligent in supervision. It is a crime." However, he said more work needs to be done on the procedures.
"We need to move forward on this. The law itself is there, the process itself needs to be developed. It is clear that it is a crime, but how we deal with this crime needs to be developed," Father Oliver said.
In an interview with The Irish Catholic newspaper during a visit to Dublin to meet safeguarding representatives from dioceses and religious orders, Father Oliver also said he believed Pope Francis will work quickly on recommendations from the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
"Pope Francis has been very clear. On strategically placed and clear occasions, he has said safeguarding children is a priority. This is one of the reasons why he has appointed the (commission). In terms of how Pope Francis personally interacts with this, we're going to see over the coming months that the commission will make recommendations to him for things he can do to continue along these lines.
"Pope Francis is the kind of leader who makes it possible for those who assist him to bring forward ideas. Then he takes hold of these ideas. The new commission is not yet in the position of bringing forward specific things to him. But I think that, once they do, the Catholic faithful, and indeed all people, will see that he will act quickly," Father Oliver said.
He acknowledged that the sexual abuse scandals have damaged the church's standing but said the church can offer leadership on helping the wider world confront sexual abuse.
On the situation in Ireland, Father Oliver said that the guidelines to tackle abuse adopted by the church in Ireland are "really quite fine."
"I've asked if they'd be interested in sharing these with countries who are not quite as far along," he said.
"It's very encouraging for me to come to Ireland and see the very effective work that has been and is being done," he said.
Father Oliver said the church "might even begin to take a role of leadership, certainly without any pride: We have to do so humbly, we have to do so in a way which recognizes the real hurt that we've caused.
"Sexual abuse of children is an area that most people would prefer not to hear about; we've been forced to look at it. We can help others to see where abuse really happens, especially in the families. We have a role, you might even call it leadership where we can assist society as a partner to face this issue," he said.
"More and more, the church can be a mirror to the wider society forcing people to face the issue of abuse," Father Oliver said.