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In new cover-up claim, letters show Pope hesitated to defrock abusive priest


Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-10

According to a 1985 letter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – the future Pope Benedict XVI – delayed the defrocking of an American priest found guilty of molesting children, advising “patience” for the “good of the universal church”.

REUTERS - Pope Benedict, in a previous post as a high Vatican official, recommended caution in the defrocking of a California Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to molesting children, according to a letter released on Friday by lawyers for the victims.

In the 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.

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

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 broke the story, 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."

'This is unfortunate'

Michael Brown, a spokesman for the diocese did not comment on the letters, but said, "I think factually it (the record) shows the diocese did the right things in 1978, and in 1987 he was removed from the priesthood."

Asked about reports about the documents, the Vatican's deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, told Reuters, "Then-Cardinal Ratzinger did not cover up the case but wanted it studied with greater attention for the good of all persons involved."

He declined further comment.

The documents released to Reuters by victims' attorney Jeff Anderson show long delays in responses, the loss of documents at the Vatican and exasperation at the Oakland Diocese.

After Ratzinger's reply, priest George Mockel wrote to Bishop John Cummins: "My own reading of this letter is that basically they are going to sit on it until Steve gets quite a bit older. My own feeling is that this is unfortunate."

"What these documents demonstrate irrefutably is that Cardinal Ratzinger himself, in his own hand, not only delayed the removal of this priest but chose to protect the reputation of the church over well-being of the children," Anderson said.

Anderson said the documents did not come to light earlier because lawyers were focused on suing the diocese, not the Vatican.

"The Vatican was only marginally on our radar in terms of what we could do and what we could ask," he said.

The victims advocacy group SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it expected more documents to emerge that link Pope Benedict to poor handling of priest abuse cases.

"We strongly suspect that there are more damning documents like this proving that Ratzinger sided with predator priests over vulnerable kids," said Joelle Casteix, SNAP's western director.

Date created : 2010-04-10