The "Irish letter", in reality, had to do with effective prosecution, not 'coverups.'
The Vatican says a letter warning Irish bishops against reporting sexual abuse of children to police has been misunderstood.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that with its 1997 letter, the Vatican wanted to ensure that Irish bishops follow church law precisely so that pedophile priests would not have any technical grounds to escape church punishment.
Lombardi issued the statement Wednesday after The Associated Press reported that the letter from the Holy See's top diplomat in Ireland told bishops that their "mandatory reporting" of abuse policy "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature."--APThere are two sets of laws at play here. One is the Church's Canon Law; the other is civil law.
Under Canon Law, "defrocking" a priest (until the Ratzinger reforms) was highly technical and complex, and the rights of the defendant-priest were carefully guarded--as are the rights of criminal defendants in the US.
The Vatican's letter to the Irish bishops was a caution, warning that civil reporting of criminal activity COULD result in preventing "defrocking" under Canon Law.
The Vatican did NOT 'instruct' the Irish bishops NOT to report under civil law.
Further complications to the 'defrocking' process were present because many priests solicited illicit sex during Confession, which raises the "seal of confession" problem, both for the victim and the priest.
The Vatican's 'Irish letter' was issued to make certain that 'defrocking' could go on, un-impeded by external (civil) prosecutions and the necessarily attendant Canon Law implications, which could prevent such 'defrocking'.
Similar situations arise in the US when a District Attorney AND a Federal prosecutor have the same defendant in their sights, by the way. Both prosecutors "want their guy," but because there are differing standards of evidence and different court procedures, one prosecutor often defers to the other when making their case.
Not unusual. Not a "plot." Not a Secret International Cabal. Just the usual jurisprudential complications.