Spanish media are quoting a retired Vatican cardinal as saying the late Pope John Paul II backed his letter congratulating a French bishop for risking jail for shielding a priest convicted of raping minors.
Web sites of La Verdad and other Spanish newspapers reported Saturday that Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 80, told an audience at a Catholic university in Murcia, Spain, on Friday that he consulted with John Paul and showed him the letter. He claimed the pontiff authorized him to send the letter to bishops worldwide.
La Verdad said the audience at Universidad Catolica de Murcia applauded the cardinal's remarks.
The 2001 letter praised Bishop Pierre Pican, who received a three-month suspended prison sentence for concealing knowledge about the clergyman, the Rev. Rene Bissey, the media said. The priest himself was sentenced to 18 years for sexually abusing 11 minors.
Asked about the Spanish media reports on Saturday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters in Malta, where Pope Benedict XVI is visiting, that he would not comment on the retired Vatican cardinal's statement.
Lombardi said he would only repeat what he had said earlier, that before he became Pope Benedict, Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger had overseen the office that the Vatican was using to consolidate control of all clergy sex abuse cases.
AP writer Harold Heckle contributed to this report from Madrid.