The guide is specifically designed to explain church canon to the public and it contains one key line that the Vatican's U.S. lawyer says is in response to growing public criticism and calls for reform.
In a new guide posted on its website, the Vatican spells out its policy for handling allegations of sexual abuse, making it clear for the first time that high-ranking clergy should report such crimes to police if required by law.
It reads "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed."
Tim Stier became a priest in the Oakland diocese 30 years ago. For the last five he has not been working as a priest because he disagrees with the church's handling of sex abuse cases, among other things.
"Adding this line publicly is a public relations move to make them look like they're willing to do that, but in fact since 2002 and the Boston crisis, several bishops have still not going directly to the law," says Stier.
However, the Vatican's U.S. attorney, based in Berkeley, says the guide is stating what has long been the practice. He says church doctrine has never forbidden clergy from reporting abuse cases and that "bishops like anyone else are required to examine the law and determine what they have to do to obey it."
"I wouldn't trust it for a second that they would practice that," says Stier.
A 1985 letter from then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now the Pope -- obtained last week by the Associated Press appears to show he resisted removing convicted Bay Area child molester Stephen Kiesle from the priesthood.
Critics say the letter is yet more evidence Ratzinger has put church image ahead of its children.
"He's protected, promoted, sheltered, and harbored priest who are molesters for decades," says Joey Piscitelli, a priest abuse survivor.
Melinda Costello was 7 years old when abused by Kiesle. She feels Ratzinger's slow response created more victims.
"The Catholic Church needs to stop living with blinders on and the Pope, in my opinion, needs to step down. He was accomplice to a crime," says Costello.
Late Monday, the Vatican's second highest ranking authority said the sex scandals plaguing the church are linked to homosexuality and not celibacy vows. He also said the church has never impeded investigations of pedophilia by priests.