The church has made the move as it looks for a way of providing assistance to victims. Some experts, however, criticize the measure, saying it does not go far enough.
Catholic bishops in the United States agreed on Wednesday to set up a sexual abuse hotline as it attempts to confront the issue within the establishment.
The Church's response to a stream of sexual misconduct cases came at a convention in Baltimore as bishops tried to address the crisis that has engulfed the institution in recent years.
The helpline will be run independently and will answer calls relating to abuse. It should be in operation within a year. Switchboard operators would relay accusations to regional supervisory bishops.
Church leaders are suggesting those bishops, in turn, seek assistance from lay experts in assessing and investigating allegations. Nevertheless, the process is not compulsory.
Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said: "I can't imagine a bishop not using a lay-led review board that's filled with people who have expertise in this area of investigation, people with a legal background or a law enforcement background."
Church inaction would spell its 'downfall'
Some think the measures do not go far enough. Campaigners for victims of sexual misconduct are pushing for mandatory police involvement.
"In the United States, there is only one appropriate 'third-party reporting system' — the legal authorities," said University of Pennsylvania professor Marci Hamilton, an expert on the prevention of child abuse.
Hamilton also said that an inability of the church to act in stronger, legal terms would "be their downfall."
Outside the hall where the convention was held, a press conference took place where sexual abuse sufferers spoke of their anguish, including attempted suicides.
The conference comes amid declining numbers in Catholicism in North America and across the globe.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 45% of Catholics in the US attended Mass at least once a month in 2018, down from 57% in 1990.
Their research also showed there were 76.3 million Catholics in the country, a figure that has decreased from 81.2 million in 2005.
jsi/jil (AP, AFP)