VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A former Vatican cardinal who congratulated a French bishop for hiding a sexually abusive priest has said he acted with the approval of the late Pope John Paul, a Spanish newspaper reported on Saturday.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the Vatican official in charge of priests around the world when he praised the French bishop in 2001, dragged the Polish pope into the controversy during a conference in the Spanish city of Murcia.
His comment came after a Vatican spokesman indirectly confirmed that a 2001 letter to the bishop posted on a French website on Thursday was authentic and was proof the Vatican was right to tighten up its procedures on sex abuse cases that year.
By invoking John Paul, Castrillon Hoyos appeared to up the ante in a subtle Vatican power struggle over who was to blame for past failures to deal effectively with the abuse cases whose revelations in recent months have shaken the Church.
"After consulting the pope ... I wrote a letter to the bishop congratulating him as a model of a father who does not hand over his sons," the daily La Verdad quoted Castrillon Hoyos as telling the conference on Friday, to a round of applause from the assembled prelates, priests and lay people.
"The Holy Father authorised me to send this letter to all bishops in the world and publish it on the internet."
Castrillon Hoyos, a Colombian who retired from Vatican service last year, argued on CNN's Spanish-language television last week that temporarily suspending abusive priests and then quietly reassigning them elsewhere was not a cover-up.
Castrillon Hoyos's letter, written in French in 2001, praised Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux for not denouncing a French priest who was later sentenced to 18 years in jail for the repeated rape of a boy and sexual assaults on 10 others.
Pican, who received a suspended three-month jail sentence for not denouncing sexual abuse of minors, admitted in court he had kept Rev. Rene Bissey in parish work despite the fact the priest had privately admitted committing paedophile acts.
The case shocked France and prompted its bishops to declare that all abuse cases must be reported to civil authorities.
"I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration," Castrillon Hoyos wrote in his letter to Pican.
At the Murcia conference, the cardinal said that Pican did not denounce Bissey because the priest had told sins in the confessional, where secrecy is respected under the law.
At his trial, Pican said Bissey admitted his abuse in a private conversation, which would not enjoy legal protection.