The future Pope Benedict XVI put the good of the Catholic Church before pleas to defrock a California priest with a history of child molestation, according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature, it has just emerged.
The Associated Press says that, four years after priest and convicted child molester Rev. Stephen Kiesle asked to be defrocked, his bishop pleaded with the future Pope Benedict XVI to remove the man from the priesthood.
But the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger counselled caution.
“Two more years would pass before the Vatican acted on the Rev. Stephen Kiesle’s request to leave,” says the AP report.
“A copy of the letter, typewritten in Latin and signed by Ratzinger, was obtained by the Associated Press. It constitutes the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican’s insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog office.”
The AP says the letter is “part of years of correspondence” beginning in 1981 between the diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about Kiesle, who pleaded no contest to misdemeanors involving child molestation in 1978.
“The Vatican confirmed Friday that the letter had Ratzinger’s signature and said it was a typical form letter used in laicization cases,” says the AP. “Attorney Jeffrey Lena said the matter proceeded ‘expeditiously, not by modern standards, but by those standards at the time,’ and that the bishop was to guard against further abuse.”
The diocese recommended defrocking Kiesle 1981, the year Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican office that shared responsibility for disciplining priests known to have abused children.
“The case then languished for four years at the Vatican before Ratzinger finally wrote to the Oakland bishop. It was two more years before Kiesle was removed; during that time he continued to do volunteer work with children through the church.”
Ratzinger also noted, says the report, that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the “good of the universal church” and the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age.” The priest was 38 at the time.
This further embarrassment will strengthen protests against the Pope, and will harden the campaign in the United Kingdom for his proposed sojourn there in September not to be designated a state visit, which will be at huge expense to the taxpayer.
(See the author’s opinion piece on this subject.)