An advisory commission set up by the Vatican proposes holding bishops accountable if they fail to report suspected sexual abuse or protect children from paedophile priests.
After its first meeting, the commission said it would develop clear and effective protocols to deal with the problem.
The Catholic Church has been repeatedly accused of failing to respond to sexual abuse scandals. In many cases, bishops moved priests from parish to parish to protect the church's reputation instead of defrocking them or handing them over to police.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said on Saturday said a person's rank in the Church should not be cause for special treatment or protection.
"Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with superiors in the Church who have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley said accountability should apply to "every one in the Church regardless of what their status is ... both for those who perpetrate the crime of sexual abuse and those who are negligent in child protection".
The commission comprises four men and four women from eight countries.
"We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important," the commission said in a statement. It will draw up protocols for Pope Francis to consider.
Cardinal O'Malley said they would "lead to an open process that will hold people accountable to their responsibility to protect children" around the world.
But he said there was still "so much ignorance, so much denial" in some parts of the Church about sexual abuse.
"There are a lot of people who think it's limited to certain countries and that it's been dealt with and now we can move on to something else and that is simply not true," Cardinal O'Malley said.
"The Church needs to always be reviewing what we have done, trying to improve what we have done, monitoring what we have done because it's possible to have beautiful policies but if they are not implemented it's only window dressing," he said.