VATICAN CITY — The Italian Catholic Church hierarchy said Thursday it had approved guidelines establishing a “moral obligation” to report cases of clergy sex abuse to police, after bishops long downplayed the problem and covered it up.

The Italian bishops’ conference didn’t immediately release the text. But the official in charge of child protection, Monsignor Lorenzo Ghizzoni, said it called for bishops to report credible accusations even though Italian law doesn’t designate clergy as mandated reporters.

The main Italian victims’ group, Rete L’Abuso, called the announcement “dishonest” as the conference in 2014 issued similar guidelines saying bishops had a “moral duty” to report. The group said the 2014 guidelines hadn’t resulted in a single church-initiated criminal complaint.

Italy’s church – of which Pope Francis is the titular head as bishop of Rome – has been well behind the curve on confronting clergy abuse, with multiple cases of abuse and high-ranking cover-ups that only recently have begun making headlines.

Just this week, the mother of a victim wrote an open letter calling for the resignation of the powerful archbishop of Milan, Mario Delpini. He admitted under oath that he transferred her son’s predator to another parish in 2011 rather than turning him in to police or keeping him away from children.

The priest, the Rev. Mauro Galli, was convicted by a Milan court last year and sentenced to more than six years in prison.

“We believe that in eight long years, if you had wanted to take the first step you would have had all the time necessary to contact us, and so now out of love for the church we’re doing it,” the boy’s mother wrote. “We ask you for the good of the church, for your own credibility and out of respect of the Holy Father, to resign.”

At the time of the sentence, Delpini’s archdiocese issued a statement saying it “took note” of the conviction, expressed closeness to the victim and his family and said it awaited the outcome of the church’s internal investigation.

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