Catholics React To Vatican Edict

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, is escorted on a tour of the pyramids near Cairo, Thursday, June 4, 2009.
U.S. President Barack Obama, right, is escorted on a tour of the pyramids near Cairo, Thursday, June 4, 2009.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Catholics across the country were angered by a Wednesday CBS News report that focused on a once-secret Vatican document.

Jeff Cavins, who hosts a talk show on a Catholic radio network, told CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales, "My listeners are very upset and I'm hearing a different tone from our listeners. I'm hearing them say 'You know what? That crosses the line.'"

Critics say the document is concerned solely with priests soliciting sex in the confessional.

The document does deal with the confessional, but it goes beyond that to include "the worst crime": sexual acts "perpetrated in any way by the cleric or attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals."

It calls for total secrecy in some cases "under the penalty of excommunication."

Some critics say the 1962 document was no longer in effect, because it was replaced by new church law in 1983.

But according to the Canon Law Society of American, in 1996 Vatican officials broadened the policy and told church lawyers it "should be followed."

In 2001, as the sex abuse scandal unfolded, a high Vatican official referred to the 40-year-old document as the policy "in force until now."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told CBS News it was in place until last summer, when they met to write new rules.

A spokesman for the bishops says it's a matter of internal church law and sin, not violations of state laws, and that the document was written to investigate priests and protect parishioners.

"To see this as a blueprint for any form of behavior is simply to misunderstand history and to misunderstand the document," the spokesman said.

Critics, including former priest Richard Sipe, disagree.

"The point is it is about sexual abuse and it is about secrecy and it is about very profound secrecy in which any sexual abuse is to be contained," he said. "It's a blueprint for secrecy."

Media outlets in New England first reported the document's existence. Now prosecutors in Massachusetts, and in California, are studying it as part of their investigation of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church.