Cardinals attending Pope Francis’ summit at Vatican City on preventing sexual abuse by the clergy, on Friday called for “a new culture of accountability” in the Catholic Church. This culture, they said, would enable the church to punish bishops and other clergy when they fail to protect their flock from “predator priests”, AP reported.

“We must repent, and do so together, collegially, because along the way we have failed,” Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias said. “We need to seek pardon.”

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich told 190 bishops and religious superiors gathered at the event that new legal procedures are necessary to report and investigate superiors when they are accused of sexual abuse or of neglecting any such allegations. “In large part it is the witness of the laity, especially mothers and fathers with great love for the church, who have pointed out movingly and forcefully how gravely incompatible the commission, cover-up and toleration of clergy sexual abuse is with the very meaning and essence of the church,” he said.

Cupich said new, transparent structures should be established to report allegations against superiors, investigate them and remove them from office if they are found guilty of “grave negligence”. He proposed that metropolitan bishops should conduct investigations with the help of lay experts. They should then hand over the results to the Vatican.

Pope Francis has summoned the bishops and religious scholars for a four-day summit on preventing sexual abuse and protecting children. The event began on Thursday.

Archbishop Charles J Scicluna, the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said Catholics need to know that their leaders “mean business” when it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse, the Catholic News Service reported. “They should come to know us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth,” he said. “We will engage them with candour and humility. We will protect them at all cost. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us.”

Sciclula said the practice in some countries of providing church members specific training in abuse prevention needs to be introduced around the world.