Pope Francis
Pope Francis attends Mass ( REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini)

The Vatican is set to launch a new online e-learning course offering advice on how to identify paedophile priests and help their victims.

Unveiling the course, priest Hans Zollner said it had been trialled in his native Germany for three years.

"During this time the e-learning programme has relied on the support of 11 members in 10 countries. More than a 1,000 priests, pastors and laity have followed them," said Zollner, reports Colombia's El Espectador.

The course is available in four languages: English, German, Spanish and Italian, and will soon be available in French, Polish and Portuguese.

Pope Francis conveyed a message of support to Zollner, which was read to him by Sean O'Malley, president of a new commission formed by the Vatican to combat paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

Karlijn Demasure, executive director of the Centre for Child Protection, said that though the course had limits and was so far accessible only to an "intellectual elite", it would soon be updated to make it more "modern, realistic, and more accessible".

The announcement follows a conference of 60 bishops held three years ago in Rome, in which the best methods for combatting paedophilia in the Catholic Church were discussed.

At the symposium, bishops from Catholic communities in developing world countries said there was still widespread ignorance about paedophilia, and how to help its victims.

"We have to proceed very sensitively to cultural level. We have to speak the language, but also the language of the heart of our partners," Zollner said, and added that the course contains internet radio sermons that can be downloaded and played in communities in the developing world.