John Allen, reporter and blogger for the execrable NCReporter, clarifies the 2001 letter, De delictis gravioribus, sent by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the Church's bishops:
That letter indicates that certain grave crimes, including the sexual abuse of a minor, are to be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and that they are "subject to the pontifical secret." The Vatican insists, however, that this secrecy applied only to the church's internal disciplinary procedures, and was not intended to prevent anyone from also reporting these cases to the police or other civil authorities. Technically they're correct, since nowhere in the 2001 letter is there any prohibition on reporting sex abuse to police or civil prosecutors.
In reality, few bishops needed a legal edict from Rome ordering them not to talk publicly about sexual abuse. That was simply the culture of the church at the time, which makes the hunt for a "smoking gun" something of a red herring right out of the gate. Fixing a culture -- one in which the Vatican, to be sure, was as complicit as anyone else, but one which was widespread and deeply rooted well beyond Rome -- is never as simple as abrogating one law and issuing another.
That aside, here's the key point about Ratzinger's 2001 letter: Far from being seen as part of the problem, at the time it was widely hailed as a watershed moment towards a solution. It marked recognition in Rome, really for the first time, of how serious the problem of sex abuse really is, and it committed the Vatican to getting directly involved. Prior to that 2001 motu proprio and Ratzinger's letter, it wasn't clear that anyone in Rome acknowledged responsibility for managing the crisis; from that moment forward, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would play the lead role.
Keep these facts handy when your fav anti-Catholic uncle/neighbor/co-worker starts spouting off about BXVI coddling clerical child molesters.
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