The Vatican has refuted claims made on an Irish television programme that it advised the Church in Ireland to cover up cases of child abuse in a 1997 letter to bishops from the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Luciano Storero.
Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Vatican Radio: "That letter has been given biased treatment by some media outlets, who have presented it as proof of an instruction, from the Vatican, to cover up cases of sexual abuse of minors.
"The letter – written on the basis of indications received from the Congregation for the Clergy – concerns a document produced by an advisory committee of the Irish bishops, highlighting certain problematic aspects therein and indicating the need for a deeper examination which also takes account of similar situations in other countries, and which had to be conducted through dialogue and collaboration with the episcopal conferences of the countries concerned."
He said: "In the first place, it must be noted that the letter does not in any way suggest that national laws must not be followed.
"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.
"Finally, it must be stated that the letter was written prior to the norms of 2001 which unified responsibility in this field under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a move which has certainly led to clearer guidelines and more effective procedures."