A copy of a 47-year-old letter was released Wednesday, in which a Roman Catholic official who dealt with treating pedophile priests recommended to the Vatican that such clergymen should be expelled from the priesthood.
Lawyers representing victims of clergy sex abuse in Los Angeles released the letter written to the late Pope Paul VI in 1963 by the Reverend Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald wrote that priests who appeared to have recovered from what he calls "sins with the young" be returned to duty only under careful supervision.
But he recommended that those who apparently cannot be be reformed be ordered to leave the priesthood.
It is unclear if Pope Paul VI ever saw the letter.
But an attorney for California abuse victims, Tony DeMarco, says the letter proves the Vatican knew about clergy abuse for decades and should have done more to protect children.
Abuse victims have criticized Catholic church leaders for protecting abusive priests or moving them to other parishes instead of punishing them.
Pope Benedict is currently facing allegations that while he was a cardinal, he failed to take steps against a U.S. priest who sexually abused 200 deaf boys from the 1950s to the 1970s. The Vatican has denied the charge.
Benedict made no mention of sex abuse scandals during his weekly general audience Wednesday.
But a top Vatican official defended the pope Wednesday in an article posted on the Vatican website. Cardinal William Levada said a trial for the Wisconsin priest would have been "useless" because by the time the Vatican became involved he was dying. He also criticized the newspaper that originally reported the scandal for its accusations against Benedict, saying the real fault was in the Wisconsin diocese's handling of the case.
Benedict's only public mention of the wider child abuse scandal came in a letter of apology to Irish Catholics, in which he criticized Irish priests for failing to protect youngsters abused in church-run schools.