1 Dec 2010

Vatican officials, including future pope, refused to defrock "evil, remorseless sociopath" priest until 9 years after his first conviction for sex crimes

New York Times - April 9, 2010

Pope Put Off Punishing Abusive Priest


The priest, convicted of tying up and abusing two young boys in a California church rectory, wanted to leave the ministry.

But in 1985, four years after the priest and his bishop first asked that he be defrocked, the future Pope Benedict XVI, then a top Vatican official, signed a letter saying that the case needed more time and that “the good of the Universal Church” had to be considered in the final decision, according to church documents released through lawsuits.

That decision did not come for two more years, the sort of delay that is fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal in the church that has focused on whether the future pope moved quickly enough to remove known pedophiles from the priesthood, despite pleas from American bishops.

As the scandal has deepened, the pope’s defenders have said that, well before he was elected pope in 2005, he grew ever more concerned about sexual abuse and weeding out pedophile priests. But the case of the California priest, the Rev. Stephen Kiesle, and the trail of documents first reported on Friday by The Associated Press, shows, in this period at least, little urgency.

The letter that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later pope, wrote in Latin in 1985, mentions Father Kiesle’s young age — 38 at the time — as one consideration in whether he should be forced from the priesthood. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was wrong to draw conclusions based on one letter, without carefully understanding the context in which it was written.

“It’s evident that it’s not an in-depth and serious use of documents,” he said. Earlier Friday, Father Lombardi suggested that the pope would be willing to meet with sexual abuse victims.

But John S. Cummins, the former bishop of Oakland who repeatedly wrote his superiors in Rome urging that the priest be defrocked, said the Vatican in that era, after the Second Vatican Council, was especially reluctant to dismiss priests because so many were abandoning the priesthood.

As a result, he said, Pope John Paul II “really slowed down the process and made it much more deliberate.”

The letters and memos, released to The New York Times by Jeff Anderson, a co-counsel representing some of the priests’ victims, reveal a rising level of exasperation among church officials in Oakland about the delays from the Vatican.

Bishop Cummins wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger in February 1982: “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry.”

In late 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger had just been appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal office. This office was supposed to handle abuse cases only when they were considered violations of the sacrament of Confession, before the policies were clarified in 2001 and the doctrinal office took on all the abuse cases. (It is unclear why the doctrinal office was handling the case of Mr. Kiesle in the 1980s).

Bishop Cummins had first petitioned the doctrinal office to defrock Mr. Kiesle in 1981. He also wrote directly to Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger requested more information, which officials in the Oakland Diocese supplied in February 1982. They did not hear back from Cardinal Ratzinger until 1985, when he sent the letter in Latin suggesting that his office needed more time to evaluate the case.

The Rev. George Mockel, a diocesan official in Oakland, wrote in a memo to Bishop Cummins: “Basically they are going to sit on it until Steve gets quite a bit older. My own feeling is that this is unfortunate.”

Mr. Kiesle was finally defrocked in 1987.

Mr. Kiesle was convicted for the first time of child molesting in 1978, just six years after he was ordained. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct while he was a pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City, Calif.

Mike Brown, a spokesman for the Oakland Diocese, said that after Mr. Kiesle was convicted, the diocese withdrew permission for him to work as a minister. Mr. Kiesle served three years’ probation for his misdemeanor and underwent treatment, enabling him to eventually get his record wiped clean.

In 1985, while the bishop in Oakland was pressing Cardinal Ratzinger to defrock Mr. Kiesle, the priest began volunteering in the youth ministry at one of his former parishes, St. Joseph’s in Pinole, Calif., news reports say.

Maurine Behrend, a former employee in the diocese’s youth ministry office, recalled encountering Mr. Kiesle at a Youth Day in April 1988 and learning from another minister that Mr. Kiesle had been convicted of molestation. Ms. Behrend alerted the head of the youth ministry office and personally warned Bishop Cummins two weeks later.

In May 1988, she wrote an outraged letter to a church official, demanding to know why “a convicted child molester is currently the youth ministry coordinator at St. Joseph’s parish in Pinole.”

Bishop Cummins, who is now 82, contested news reports that Mr. Kiesle was volunteering at his old parish for three years, saying diocesan officials would have heard and acted earlier. Bishop Cummins did not recall ever being alerted, despite Ms. Behrend’s irate letter.

Bishop Cummins said Mr. Kiesle was finally removed from his volunteer position when the bishop happened to bump into him at a child’s confirmation ceremony at the parish. The next day, the bishop said he made sure Mr. Kiesle was banned from working at the parish.

In 2002, Mr. Kiesle was charged in several cases of molestation, including abusing at least a half-dozen young girls while at his former parishes in the 1960s and 1970s. But those charges had to be dropped when the United States Supreme Court struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations on child molestation cases.

He eventually pleaded no contest in 2004 to a separate felony charge of molesting a child at his vacation home in Truckee, Calif., in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Rick Simons, an attorney in Hayward, Calif., who represented two of the victims who later sued the Diocese of Oakland, said he met Father Kiesle when he took his deposition in prison.

“Of all the priests who abused children that I have met, and there’s probably a couple dozen, he was by far the most evil, remorseless sociopath of the lot,” he said.

Mr. Kiesle was released, and is listed in California’s sex offenders registry as living in Walnut Creek, Ca. He lives in a gated community, where guards on Friday prevented a reporter from approaching his home.

Mr. Simons said that about eight victims of Mr. Kiesle reached a settlement with the Diocese of Oakland in 2005, and that on average each received about $1 million to $1.5 million.

Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome, Anna Bloom from Oakland, Calif., and Rachel Gross from Walnut Creek, Calif.

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BBC News - April 9, 2010

Pope Benedict hit by new Church child abuse allegations

The Vatican has confirmed Cardinal Ratzinger's signature

The Pope is facing allegations he was responsible for delaying Church action against a paedophile priest - the first time he has been accused so directly.

The allegations stem from a letter signed by Benedict XVI in 1985, when he was a senior Vatican official.

Associated Press said it had obtained the letter, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, resisting the defrocking of offending US priest Stephen Kiesle.

The Vatican says he was exercising due caution before sacking the priest.

Cardinal Ratzinger - who was at the time the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - said the "good of the universal Church" needed to be considered in any defrocking, AP reported.

Vatican officials say the letter was part of a long correspondence and should not be taken out of context.

Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said: "The press office doesn't believe it is necessary to respond to every single document taken out of context regarding particular legal situations."

The allegations come as the Vatican says the Pope is willing to meet more victims of clerical abuse, and as the Vatican prepares to publish a guide on the internet about how bishops should deal with accusations of sexual abuse.

The Catholic Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals, including in Ireland, the US, Germany and Norway, and has faced criticism for failing to deal adequately with the problem.

'Grave significance'

AP said the Rev Kiesle was sentenced to three years of probation in 1978 for lewd conduct with two young boys in San Francisco. It said the Oakland diocese had recommended Kiesle's removal in 1981 but that that did not happen until 1987.

Cardinal Ratzinger took over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases, in 1981.

AP says the 1985 correspondence, written in Latin, shows Cardinal Ratzinger saying that Kiesle's removal would need careful review.

Cardinal Ratzinger urged "as much paternal care as possible" for Kiesle.

Kiesle was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 after admitting molesting a young girl in 1995.

Kiesle is now 63 and is on the registered sex offenders list in California.

On Friday, the Vatican urged Catholic dioceses around the world to co-operate with police investigating sex abuse allegations against priests.

Father Lombardi acknowledged that the Church had lost public trust and said Church law could no longer be placed above civil laws if that trust were to be recovered.

He also said Pope Benedict was prepared to meet more victims of abuse to offer them moral support.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says this is an abrupt change of tone by the Vatican.

He says officials had previously accused critics of trying to smear the Pope personally and only last weekend said he should ignore petty gossip directed at him.

Meanwhile Italian media have reported that the Vatican is to issue guidelines on its website on Monday on fighting paedophilia.

The Vatican has ruled out any possibility of a papal resignation over the scandals.
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Reuters - April 10, 2010

Pope did not impede defrocking of priest: Vatican

By Silvia Aloisi | Reuters

VATICAN CITY, April 10 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Saturday defended Pope Benedict from accusations that, in a previous post as a high Vatican official, he tried to impede the defrocking of a California priest who had sexually abused children.

In a statement, a Vatican lawyer accused the media of a "rush to judgment".

In a 1985 letter, typed in Latin and translated for The Associated Press, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the bishop of Oakland he needed more time "to consider the good of the Universal Church" as he reviewed a request to remove the priest.

California-based Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena said he could not confirm the authenticity of the letter but indicated that it appeared to be "a form letter typically sent out initially with respect to laicisation cases," when men ask to leave the priesthood.

The letter surfaced as the Vatican fights accusations that the pope mishandled cases of abuse when he was a bishop in Germany and a Vatican official before his election in 2005.

Lena "denied that the letter reflected then-Cardinal Ratzinger resisting pleas from the bishop to defrock the priest," the statement said.

"There may be some overstep and rush to judgment going on here," Lena said. "During the entire course of the proceeding the priest remained under the control, authority and care of the local bishop who was responsible to make sure he did no harm, as the canon (Church) law provides. The abuse case wasn’t transferred to the Vatican at all," he said.

Ratzinger wrote in the letter that arguments to remove the priest were of "grave significance" but also worried about what "granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner."

According to The Associated Press, which first reported the story on Friday, the Rev. Stephen Miller Kiesle was 38 at the time and had been sentenced in 1978 to three years’ probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a church rectory.

According to a letter from the Diocese of Oakland to Ratzinger in 1981, Kiesle had asked to leave the active ministry and the diocese asked Ratzinger to agree that he be "relieved of all the obligations of the priesthood, including celibacy."

(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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