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A smoking gun ; Document shows Vatican discouraged reporting child sex abuse to police

It was a troubling document recently disclosed by the Vatican, though given the revelations of the past few years, not really shocking. How sad. The document revealed that Vatican officials told the bishops of Ireland in 1997 that they had serious reservations about the bishops' policy of mandatory reporting to police of suspected child abuse.

It's disturbing and disappointing even so many years after the document was drafted. There have been signs of progress and forward thinking by officials since widespread controversy surrounding accusations and findings of child abuse within the church. This document, revealed by the Irish broadcaster RTE and obtained by the Associated Press, signals that there is always more to be done.

There is no greater reference in the church than the Vatican, pope and administration. But this latest news is a reminder that even high church powers can make terrible, even unconscionable decisions and must be challenged.

This document contradicts the Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the local bishops in abuse cases and that the church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects.

Indeed, this will prove important to those victims in Ireland and the United States as they pursue lawsuits against the Vatican.

In turn, the Vatican has been quoted through its spokesman that the document is further proof that past missteps on handling sex abuse allegations were corrected by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top official in the Vatican before becoming the current pope, Benedict XVI.

The Vatican has also stated that the letter is representative of an approach and -- a wrong approach -- by a particular Vatican office, the Congregation for the Clergy, before 2001. That was the year in which Pope John Paul II charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by future Pope Benedict, with handling such cases.

It should be noted that the Irish church reportedly adopted a policy of mandatory reporting of all cases of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities in 1996 and authorities insist it has been progressively strengthened since.

This is yet another sad piece of an ugly mosaic that has become part of the church's history and is a reminder that the healing process continues. It is also another reminder of something that shouldn't need repeating: Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime and it is not for any individual or organization -- even a church -- to decide when the police should be called in. Pedophiles are pedophiles whether their collars are white, blue or clerical.

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