Keen to fend off accusations of high-level complacency, the Vatican has updated its rules on dealing with abuse by priests.
Investigations will be fast-tracked with the most serious cases referred directly to the Pope.
The time limit for people to bring complaints has also been extended.
“What we have today is faculties being transformed into norms, and that is a step forward because now the norm of law is binding and is certain” said spokesman Charles Scicluna.
Child pornography and the abuse of mentally disabled adults will also be classed as serious offences.
Some campaigners are welcoming the update:
“I think that associating the situation of mentally disabled people with minors means we recognise their vulnerability, and thus also the importance of strongly condemning any violent act towards anyone known to be vulnerable” said campaigner Anna Contardi.
All investigations will remain internal church matters, to the disappointment of some advocacy groups who want any alleged offenders to be handed over to the civil criminal authorities.
The Catholic Church in Europe and the US has been rocked by paedophile priest scandals and damaging allegations of high-level cover-ups in the last few months.