Secret Vatican Edict: Don't Report Abusive Priests

At a later meeting, bishops told to remember they were 'not policemen'

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 19, 2011 7:23 AM CST

(Newser) – The Vatican is scrambling to explain a secret 1997 edict rejecting an Irish Catholic Church proposal to report pedophile priests to the local authorities. The “strictly confidential” document, obtained by Ireland’s RTE television for a new documentary, said that reporting priests might give them grounds to appeal to the Holy See, which would be “highly embarrassing and detrimental.” One Irish bishop called it “a mandate … to conceal the reported crimes of a priest.”

At a 1999 meeting in Rome, Irish church authorities were reminded they were “bishops first, not policemen,” according to the Irish Times. Abuse victims in the US called the document “the smoking gun we’ve been looking for.” But the Church tells the AP that the document is being misinterpreted. The church, a spokesman contends, merely wanted to ensure that canonical law was followed precisely so priests couldn't avoid church punishments. Some priests, he explained, solicited sex in confessionals, meaning that under church law, it must be dealt with in secrecy.

This image shows a copy of a newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warning Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police.
This image shows a copy of a newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warning Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police.   (AP Photo/RTE)
Pope Benedict XVI greets faithful during a meeting with Neocatechumenals in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011.
Pope Benedict XVI greets faithful during a meeting with Neocatechumenals in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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