DUBLIN —A newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland’s Catholic
bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure
with the potential to fuel more lawsuits worldwide against the Vatican, which
has long denied any involvement in cover-ups.
The letter, obtained by Irish
broadcasters RTE documents the Vatican’s rejection of an Irish church
initiative to begin helping police identify paedophile priests.
The letter’s message undermines
persistent Vatican claims that the church never instructed bishops to withhold
evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church’s
right to handle all child-abuse allegations, and determine punishments, in
house rather than hand that power to civil authorities.
Catholic officials in Ireland
declined to respond.
Child-abuse activists in Ireland
said the 1997 letter should demonstrate, once and for all, that the protection
of paedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by
Vatican leaders but ordered by them.
A key argument employed by the
Vatican in defending dozens of lawsuits over clerical sex abuse in the United
States is that it had no role in ordering local church authorities to suppress
evidence of crimes.
“The letter is of huge international
significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent
reporting of abuse to criminal authorities.
And if that instruction applied here, it
applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of
human rights watchdog Amnesty International.