(Swiss Guards at the Vatican, May 6, 2011/Tony Gentile)

The Vatican told bishops around the world Monday that they must make it a global priority to root out sexual abuse of children by priests. The Roman Catholic Church told bishops in a letter that they should cooperate with civil authorities to end the abuse that has tarnished its image around the world.

“This is telling the world that we mean business. We want to be an example of prevention and care,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The letter is intended to help every diocese draw up its own tough guidelines, based on a global approach but in line with local civil law. These must be sent to the Vatican for review within a year. “The responsibility for dealing with delicts (crimes) of sexual abuse of minors by clerics belongs in the first place to the diocesan bishop,” the letter says.

It incorporates sweeping revisions made last year to the Church’s laws on sexual abuse, which doubled a statute of limitations for disciplinary action against priests and extended the use of fast-track procedures to defrock them.

Read the full story here. The text of the letter is here. A statement by the Vatican press office explaining the principles behind the guidelines is here.