The Catholic Church is telling newly appointed bishops it is "not necessarily" their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse to authorities.
A document explaining how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse suggests only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.
The document, recently released by the Vatican, emphasises that bishops' only duty is to address such allegations internally - though it says they must be aware of local laws.
Details were reported by John Allen, associate editor of the Catholic News Site Cruxnow.com.
“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the document states.
The guidelines were written by the controversial monsignor and psychotherapist Tony Anatrella, who is serving as consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Although the guide acknowledges "the church has been particularly affected by sexual crimes committed against children," it emphasises statistics showing the vast majority of sexual assaults against children are committed within the family and by friends and neighbours, The Guardian reports.
Pope Francis previously declared a "zero tolerance" policy for members of the clergy who abuse children.