Pope cautious about defrocking abusive priest: letters

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LOS ANGELES. April 10, 2010. (AFP) Future Pope Benedict XVI was reluctant to defrock a California priest in the 1980s accused of sexually abusing children, correspondence released by lawyers for the victims appeared to show on Friday

A series of letters released by attorney Jeff Anderson showed repeated misgivings concerning the conduct of priest Stephen Kiesle raised by senior officials from the Oakland diocese during the early 1980s.
In a letter sent by Oakland Bishop John Cummins to the Vatican in June 1981, he petitioned authorities to defrock Kiesle, citing a 1978 court case where he had pleaded no contest to abusing six children aged between 11 and 13.
A further letter sent by Cummins in February 1982 to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- who at the time was responsible for enforcing Roman Catholic doctrine -- again urged Kiesle to be defrocked.
"It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted," Cummins wrote, warning there "might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry."
An additional request for action against Kiesle was sent in September 1982, only to receive a "rather curt" reply that the matter "would be examined at an opportune time" according to internal correspondence in the Oakland diocese.
By 1985 -- four years after the initial letter -- Oakland diocese officials were still awaiting word from the Vatican over the status of the petition requesting Kiesle's defrocking.
Eventually, Ratzinger replies to Cummins in a letter written in Latin dated November 15, 1985.
While Ratzinger admits the "gravity" of Kiesle's case, he states he is reluctant to take action immediately because he needs to consider the effect it will have on the "good of the Universal Church."
Ratzinger informs Cummins that Kiesle's case must be submitted to "careful consideration, which will take a longer period than usual."
In response, Oakland Diocese reverend George Mockel tells Cummins he believes the Vatican officials "are going to sit on" the case "until (Kiesle) gets quite a bit older."
"My own feeling is that this is unfortunate," Mockel writes.
Kiesle was eventually defrocked in 1987. He later worked as a youth co-ordinator at a parish in Pinole, northern California for eight months, a statement released by Anderson said.
Ratzinger went on to become Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
Large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the churches of Ireland, Austria, the United States and the pope's native Germany in recent months.
The 82-year-old pontiff has himself faced allegations that he failed to take action against predator priests when he served as the Vatican's watchdog for morals and doctrinal issues and earlier as the archbishop of Munich.

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