Vatican dispute 'no report' claims
The Vatican has disputed allegations it ordered Irish bishops in 1997 not to report paedophile priests to the authorities.
A strictly confidential letter leaked by a bishop revealed the Catholic hierarchy had serious reservations about mandatory reporting of child sex abuse cases to the police.
Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, claimed the edict was not intended to give church rules priority over civil law.
"It must be noted that the letter does not in any way suggest that national laws must not be followed," Rev Lombardi said.
"Furthermore, the letter rightly emphasises the importance of always respecting canonical legislation, precisely in order to ensure that guilty parties do not have justified grounds for an appeal and thus producing a result contrary to the one desired."
The letter, from Archbishop Luciano Storero, apostolic nuncio to Ireland at the time, was central to a documentary aired on Irish television on Monday night.
The RTE programme also reported that an unnamed Irish bishop described the Vatican directive as "a mandate ... to conceal the reported crimes of a priest".
It was sent more than a year after Irish bishops produced the "Green Book" on the handling of child sex abuse cases and which recommended all allegations of clerical paedophilia be reported to the civil authorities.
Maeve Lewis, director of the One in Four support group, said the letter showed bishops were left hanging between having to abide by Irish law, Catholic Church law and guidelines they had agreed themselves.
"In practice it would appear that the Vatican was at all costs avoiding the laicisation of priests and leaving bishops with little authority," she said.