A newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warns Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police because that would violate the church's canon laws.
The letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided Tuesday to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican's rejection at that time of an Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests.
In the letter, the Vatican's diplomat in Ireland at the time, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church's year-old policy of "mandatory" reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.
Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church's policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was "merely a study document." He said canon law — which required abuse allegations to be handled within the church — "must be meticulously followed."
Without elaborating Storero, who died in 2000, wrote that mandatory reporting of child-abuse claims to police "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature."
The letter, originally obtained by RTE religious affairs program Would You Believe?, said the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome would establish worldwide child-protection policies "at the appropriate time."
The Vatican has not formally accepted any of the Irish church's three major documents on child protection since 1996. All emphasize mandatory reporting of suspected offenses.
The content of Storero's letter was reported second-hand in 2009 as part of a mammoth investigation into the 1975-2004 cover-up of hundreds of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese. The letter itself, marked "strictly confidential," has never before been published.