Friday, April 9, 2010

And Now This: AP Exclusive Shows Future Pope Benedict Delaying Action on Abusive California Priest in 1980s

And now this: in an AP exclusive, reporter Gillian Flaccus writes that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) stalled the investigation of a priest known to be abusing minors in the Oakland, California, diocese in 1985.

The diocese recommended that the Vatican remove Rev. Stephen Kiesle from ministry in 1981.  “The case then languished for four years at the Vatican before Ratzinger finally wrote to Bishop John Cummins,” according to Flaccus.  Kiesle continued in ministry another two years, continuing to have access to children.

Ratzinger’s November 1985 letter responding to Bishop Cummins, of which AP has a copy, says that the arguments for removing Kiesle from ministry were “of grave significance,” but the matter demanded further review, during which Cummins was to treat Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible.”

Ratzinger’s letter advises careful consideration before Kiesle was defrocked, basing his argument for the continuation of Kiesle’s ministry as the case was reviewed on “the good of the universal church.”

While the matter continued under review, Rev. Kiesle volunteered for (and was permitted to engage in) youth ministry.  An attorney for six of Kiesle’s victims, Lewis VanBlois, says, “He admitted molesting many children and bragged that he was the Pied Piper and said he tried to molest every child that sat on his lap.  When asked how many children he had molested over the years, he said ‘tons.’”

Kiesle married after leaving the priesthood and in 2002 was arrested and charged with 13 counts of child molestation from the 1970s.  But all except two counts were thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law extending the statute of limitations in such cases.   In 2004, Kiesle pled no contest to a felony charge for molesting a young girl in his house in 1995 (i.e., after he was defrocked), and was sentenced to six years in state prison.

The Vatican confirmed today that the letter obtained by AP has Ratzinger’s signature, but states that the letter is being taken out of context and that the future pope’s concern was for “the good of all involved.”

Joelle Casteix of SNAP responds that the hearts of other survivors of abuse ache for the girls and boys Kiesle molested after Vatican officials had a chance to approve his defrocking, but chose not to act immediately. 

“For the good of the universal church . . . .”  Treat him—a priest known to be molesting children, kept in ministry with children, and permitted to do youth ministry—treat him with “as much paternal care as possible.”

Not the children.  Him.  The priest.  Who was raping them.

I know full well that many apologists will now do the old song and dance of saying that this was the culture of the church at the time, and church officials didn’t know better, and we ought not to judge their behavior now by criteria that postdate what they knew then.

But why was it so difficult for church officials to see in 1985 that raping children was wrong?  While protecting the priests who shattered children’s lives?

What is so morally repugnant—in the extreme—about these attitudes is how they consistently treat abused children as if they are not there.  As if they do not count.  As if what was happening to them was inconsequential.

And this was “for the good of the universal church”?  What moral universe does someone who thinks this way inhabit? 

In reading this story, I am reminded of something Bishop Victor Balke of Crookston wrote to Cardinal Levada, Ratzinger’s successor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in December 2006, in the case of Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul.  Balke wrote, 

It is difficult for me to quantify the harm that this man has done to the dignity of the priesthood.

When I first read that sentence in the documents that Laurie Goodstein appended to her discussion of the Jeyapaul story, I’ll admit I was foolish enough to think that Bishop Balke’s declaration, “It is difficult for me to quantify the harm that this man has done,” would conclude by talking about the girls Jeyapaul harmed.

I was sickened, but not surprised, to read that the sentence concluded by talking about the harm he has done to the dignity of the priesthood.

And there, in a single sentence, is the dark heart of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, exposed in all its profound ugliness: the harm to the priesthood.

Not the children.