April 30 (UPI) -- Pope Francis issued a letter Friday to Catholic cardinals and bishops saying he has removed procedural hurdles that allowed them to avoid being prosecuted by the Vatican's non-clergy criminal tribunal.
The new rule allows cardinals and bishops accused of criminal offenses to be tried by Vatican city-state prosecutors instead of only the Court of Cassation, which is presided over by other cardinals.
The previous law specified that the Court of Cassations was the only court that could judge cardinals and bishops in criminal cases. The change means Vatican City judges, who are not cardinals, have the authority to rule on such cases.
The amendment, which applies to a Vatican law established a year ago, comes after the pontiff addressed the issue of prosecution at the inauguration of the judicial year on March 27.
"The overriding need for the current procedural system -- also by means of appropriate changes in the law -- to ensure the equality of all members of the church and their equal dignity and position, without privileges that date back to earlier times and are no longer in keeping with the responsibilities that each person has in building up the church," the pope wrote in his letter Friday.
The Court of Cassation consists of the cardinal prefect, two cardinal members of the Signatura and two or more judges appointed to three-year terms.
With the change, city-state prosecutors only need preauthorization from Pope Francis to try bishops and cardinals in any Vatican City criminal case.