Pope John Paul II has quietly changed church law to make it easier for abusive priests to be removed from the priesthood.
In a decision in February, he gave greater authority to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to "laicize" a priest who admits to abuse or in cases that involve a particularly serious offense.
The rule change allows the priest to be removed without a church trial. Previously, only the pope had authority to laicize a priest without trial. In addition, the pope now will allow trained lay people or deacons to serve on church tribunals, which previously had been restricted to priests.
The decision, which was reported by the independent National Catholic Reporter, is an outgrowth of new sex abuse rules adopted last year by American bishops.
They had asked for the trial process to be streamlined in exchange for giving accused priests greater legal protection.