The Vatican has told Roman Catholic bishops that they will have to take more responsibility to prevent sexual abuse of children by priests after a series of abuse scandals around the world.
The Vatican also said in a statement issued after a day-long meeting of cardinals on yesterday that it was preparing new guidelines for bishops on how to deal with the sexual abuse, including cooperation with local authorities.
Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world held a rare gathering to discuss religious freedom, sexual abuse of children by priests and accepting converts from the Anglican church.
Cardinal William Levada, the American head of the doctrinal office headed by Pope Benedict before his election, spoke of "greater responsibility of bishops for the protection of faithful entrusted to them", the statement said.
The closed-door meeting took place on the eve of a ceremony known as a consistory at which the Pope will create 24 new cardinals, including 20 who are under 80 and thus eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect his successor.
The church has been struggling to deal with the scandal in several countries of sexual abuse of children and young people by priests.
Victims of sexual abuse protested in Rome to coincide with the meeting. They say the Vatican has not done enough to protect children.
"We want the bishops to turn over to police and prosecutors the personal files of proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics," said Barbara Blaine, a leader of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"The only way that we can make sure that the children that we all know and the children who attend Mass every day are safe is if the church stops fighting and starts cooperating like every other organisation would and should," SNAP member and abuse victim Lucy Duckworth told a news conference.
The participants also discussed religious freedom, a debate which unfolded against the backdrop of a fresh Vatican conflict with China's communist government over the ordination of a bishop without papal permission.
The topic of religious liberty came to the fore on Thursday when the Vatican warned China not to force bishops loyal to the Pope to attend the ordination of a bishop who is a member of the state-backed church that does not recognise the pontiff.
Prelates expressed concern that the new stand-off with Beijing would lead to a worsening of relations after a period of relative improvement.
Guo Jincai was made a bishop in the north Chinese city of Chengde today in a ceremony guarded by police who kept reporters at a distance.
Catholics in China are divided between a church that recognises the Pope and his authority to name bishops and one under a state-run "patriotic association" which names its own bishops.
In recent years, the Pope has encouraged reconciliation among Chinese Catholics, and some bishops have been appointed with both the approval of the Pope and nod of state authorities.