VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has approved proposals for bishops to be judged by a Church tribunal if they cover up sex abuse by priests, the Vatican said Wednesday.
The reform involves the creation of a crime of "abuse of episcopal office" in canon law.
It follows a recommendation from the Vatican's child protection panel, a body which includes victims of paedophile priests and was set up last year with a brief to root out sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
The panel's recommendation was recently endorsed by the C9 group of cardinals who advise Francis.
The pope has ordered the creation of a new legal unit within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a section of the Vatican's bureaucracy which was founded to defend the Church from heresy.
The unit will be headed by a senior official appointed personally by the pope.
It will be responsible for assessing complaints received about the conduct of bishops and deciding what, if any, sanctions are appropriate.
The new unit will also be empowered to assist in criminal cases against priests charged with abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, the Vatican said.