Police helped the Catholic Diocese of Toledo cover up sex abuse allegations for several decades, refusing to investigate or arrest priests suspected of molesting children, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Blade, relying on interviews with former officers and a review of court and diocese records, found at least five instances since the 1950s of police covering up allegations of abuse.

Four former officers said Anthony Bosch, a Catholic who was chief of the Toledo department from 1956 to 1970, established an unwritten rule that priests could not be arrested.

"You would have been fired," said Gene Fodor, who served on the force between 1960 and 1981.

In some cases that resulted in charges, authorities blocked the release of files to the public. In others, priests were transferred to different churches or sent away for treatment.

The Rev. Robert Lamantia, who oversaw the transfer of a priest who was suspected of abusing a boy, said church officials knew police would not investigate.

"It doesn't look good today, but it wasn't part of our policy that this was considered to be a crime against youth and it had to be handled by police," he said.

Police told the newspaper that much has changed since the sexual abuse crisis began unfolding in 2002 and insisted that priests suspected of crimes no longer receive special treatment.

The diocese declined to discuss its relationship with law enforcement in the past, saying to talk about it now would only hurt abuse victims.

Many victims "have spoken of their anguish at each republication of previously published stories about their experiences and those of other survivors," Bishop Leonard Blair said in a statement.

After Bosch left the Toledo department, the coverups continued, the Blade reported. Bosch died in 1982.

Jim Richards, who worked as the diocesan spokesman from 1971 to 1995, said church leaders knew whom to call to keep cases quiet.

A retired police detective who also worked as a private investigator for the diocese said he did not file police reports about suspected abuse by priests.

"I can tell you that there was always somebody they could go to in the police department," former sergeant John Connors said. "And I can tell you that, at one time, I was that man."

No priest was arrested for sexual abuse until 1984, when an officer found a priest receiving oral sex from a teenager in a mall restroom, the Blade reported.

"I was not going to follow the department policy -- not this time," said officer Bill Gray, who is now retired. After the arrest, Gray said, he received harassing phone calls from his fellow officers.

After the priest was sentenced, the judge and prosecutors agreed to seal his record. Gray still maintains his own files because he suspected the case might be hidden.