This 1985 letter, written in Latin to the bishop of Oakland, Calif., was signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was head of the Vatican office that disciplined abusive priests.As the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal has continued to rumble around Europe — most recently having made its appearance in Malta — the Vatican’s position has consistently been that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, who once headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had been responsible for handling such allegations, had known nothing about it until the early 2000s, and since becoming Pope in 2005, he has taken command of the problem and dealt with abusers harshly. But the AP got its hands on a 1985 letter which suggests otherwise. As they report via Google News, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was actually reluctant to discipline or defrock a priest in the Oakland, California diocese who had already been convicted of abuse (WebCite cached article):

The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is 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 letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.

The case against Rev Stephen Kiesle had already languished for four years by the time Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back to John Cummins, then bishop of Oakland:

In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of “grave significance” but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible” while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.

But the future pope also noted 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.” Kiesle was 38 at the time.

Kiesle’s guilt by that time was not in question, and Kiesle himself had requested to be defrocked:

Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory.

As his probation ended in 1981, Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood and the diocese submitted papers to Rome to defrock him.

So by the time of this 1985 letter, Ratzinger had been working to keep a man who wanted out of the priesthood, in his vestments for 4 full years! And it would take 2 more until he was finally tossed out!

The Vatican’s denials that Cardinal Ratzinger wasn’t aware of the problem of priests abusing children, decades ago, are quite obviously untrue. How many more lies will they tell in order to keep propping him up?

Photo credit: Kim Johnson / AP (via USA Today)

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