BALTIMORE (AP) — U.S. Catholic bishops have voted to create a new national sex-abuse hotline.

The system would field allegations accusing bishops of committing abuse or covering it up. It's supposed to be operating within a year and would be run by an independent entity.

The initiative approved Wednesday marks one of the church's most tangible steps in confronting its sex-abuse crisis, which has prompted many Catholics to reduce their donations and attendance at Mass.

The hotline would take complaints by telephone and through an online link.

Hotline operators would relay allegations to regional supervisory bishops. Church leaders are encouraging those bishops — though not requiring them — to seek help from lay experts in assessing and investigating allegations.

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