According to a newly disclosed letter written by Vatican officials back in 1997, Ireland’s Catholic bishops were instructed to withhold evidence or suspicions of crimes related to any child abuse cases involving pedophile priests and to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The letter also zeroes in on the new evidence that shows the Vatican ran afoul of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin assisting police officials to identify pedophile priests after the very first reports of Irish priests’ implication in child abuse scandals surfaced.
The letter, which carries the signature of the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II‘s diplomat to Ireland, asserts that the abuse cases should be dealt with within the purview of the Catholic Church instead of handing them over to criminal authorities.
“Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the highly embarrassing position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome,” Storero asserted in the letter.
Meanwhile an official with the Irish chapter of Amnesty International criticized the Vatican’s instructions, saying the revelation strikes at the core of a massive cover-up of child abuse cases.
The letter shows “the Vatican’s intention to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, the director of the Irish chapter of Amnesty International.
Over the past few years, the Vatican has been embroiled in child abuse scandals which have surfaced in Catholic institutions in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and the United States.