December 13, 2010

A newly disclosed letter reveals that in 1988, the future Pope Benedict pressed for swifter and more streamlined procedures to punish priests guilty of "grave and scandalous conduct."

The letter, written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, expressed concern that the normal process for dealing with such priests — which typically involved a request for dispensation from priestly obligations — took too long and was seen more as a favour than a punishment.

Eventually, with Ratzinger's involvement, the penal procedures were simplified and sanctions were strengthened.

But in 1988, the cardinal's suggestion of a "more rapid and simplified penal process" was rebuffed by the Vatican's canon law experts.

The letter was cited in a lengthy article published Dec. 1 by the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The article highlighted what it described as Ratzinger's "decisive action" in the process of strengthening sanctions against errant priests.

Ratzinger's letter, dated Feb. 19, 1988, was addressed to the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.