The NPR.org Website reported on 20 January that the Vatican belittled a letter issued in 1997 that seemed to advise Irish bishops not to report sex-related cases to authorities.
US lawyers asserted that the smallest sovereign state was accountable for covering up abusive clergy, which the Holy See denied.
Here is the transcript of the said letter that the Pontiff said did not instruct Bishops in Ireland to ignore civil law, issued in Dublin on 31 January 1997:
"The Congregation of the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by the clerics and the document entitled 'Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response', published by the Irish Catholic Bishops' Advisory Committee.
"The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.
"The text, however, contains 'procedures, and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities."
Jeffrey Anderson, plaintiff's lawyer, said that the letter was an astounding piece of evidence that the Vatican has control, it is iron-fisted, demands secrecy, and fails to protect the victims who are minors.
However, a report by the The Salt Lake Tribune quoted the AP that the Pontiff said the letter was "deeply misunderstood."
An Irish government-backed investigation of decades-long sexual offence cover ups concluded that the "bishops understood the letter to mean they shouldn’t report suspected crimes."
According to Andrew Madden, an ex-altar boy in Dublin who was repeatedly molested by Fr. Ivan Payne during the 80s said, "The letter confirms that the cover-up goes as far as the Vatican, that Vatican officials knew exactly what was going on, and that they proactively sought to deter Irish bishops from cooperating with civil authorities in Ireland."