The letter dated September 8, 2001, was written by Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, then head of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Cardinal Castrillon also delivered a copy of the letter, in which he praised French Bishop Pierre Pican, to bishops world wide.
Castrillon wrote: “I congratulate you for not having turned in a priest to the civil administration, and I am delighted to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, will have preferred prison rather than to turn in its son-priest.”
The bishop, who retired in March of 2010, received a suspended sentence for failing to report Father Rene Bissey who raped and sexually abused a dozen boys over the course of 10 years.
He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The bishop acknowledged he knew about the allegations from the mother of one of the victims, so it was not a case of secret of confession.
In a statement Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said the letter confirms the opportunity of the 2001 decision that transferred the handling of sex abuse cases in the Church from local dioceses and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyo’s office, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed by Joseph Ratzinger at the time.
The Vatican says the letter is proof that sex abuse cases needed to be handled in a “rigorous and consisted manner” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.