US bishops have vowed to draw up a code of conduct regarding the sexual abuse of children and set up a reporting system in the wake of damaging scandals.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Wednesday that they had approved the establishment of a "third-party reporting system" that will receive complaints in confidence, by telephone and online, of any sexual abuse, misconduct or harassment involving a bishop.
Such complaints, they said, would be directed "to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority" and, in keeping with the law, to civil authorities.
The organization said it had initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops about the sexual abuse of children, any sexual misconduct with an adult or "negligence" related to such cases.
They also announced that they supported a "full investigation" into Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who resigned in July after a review board found there was "credible" evidence that he had assaulted a teen while working as a priest in New York in the 1970s.
"This is only a beginning," said the statement from the American bishops.
"Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts, and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice," it added.
"Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole," it acknowledged.
"They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers."
The measures come in response to the scandal caused by McCarrick, who was one of the most prominent US cardinals active on the international stage and who has been one of the most high-profile Catholic leaders to face abuse claims.
In August, the US Catholic Church was also rocked to its core by the publication of a sweeping report into child sex abuse in Pennsylvania, which said more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades.