The Third Strike

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The AP's story on Joseph Ratzinger's direct involvement in delaying for six years the defrocking of a priest who had confessed to tying up and raping minors ends any doubt that the future Pope is as implicated in the sex abuse crisis as much as any other official in the church. 

The facts are as clear as they are damning. From the documents, the priest fits exactly the model of arrested development I sketched out here. He seems to have been pressured by a bossy mother to become a priest, and was interested only in hanging out with children around the ages of 11 to 13 (the age of the boys he raped). He had no genuine impulse to ordination, but the church was so desperate for priests he was acceptable.

When confronted with the charges, the priest pleaded no contest to tying up and raping two pre-teen boys in 1978 in the rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Union City. There were, apparently, several more victims. There was no dispute as to his guilt. The priest, Stephen Kiesle, personally requested he be defrocked. His legacy is horrifying:

Kiesle, now 63 and recently released from prison, lives in the Rossmoor senior community in Walnut Creek and wears a Global Positioning System anklet. He is on parole for a different sex crime against a child. Numerous accusers have said he abused them as children at Our Lady of the Rosary, Santa Paula (now Our Lady of Guadalupe) in Fremont and Saint Joseph in Pinole, where he served in the mid-1970s, then returned in 1985 to volunteer as a youth minister.

Yes, this rapist was subsequently allowed back into the parish where he tied up and raped children seven years later as a volunteer youth minister. Even after his eventual defrocking, in 1987, he continued to work with children at the parish for another year.

Whose fault was this? In this case, it is absolutely clear that his remaining a priest was entirely the fault of the Vatican, and the person directly responsible for the delay in defrocking him was Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Kiesle himself requested he be defrocked. The local bishop desperately wanted him to be defrocked and petitioned Raztinger first in 1981 that it happen expeditiously. The bishop, knowing that what the hierarchy cared about was bad press, not the protection and welfare of children, argued that there would be more "scandal" if the priest were kept in ministry than if he were fired:

"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," Cummins wrote in 1982.

Despite several appeals from Cummins, Ratzinger's office delayed any resolution for three years and then proposed more time to process the case because of two things:

This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.

It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time.

In the meantime your Excellency must not fail to provide the petitioner with as much paternal care as possible and in addition to explain to same the rationale of this court, which is accustomed to proceed keeping the common good especially before its eyes.

This is signed by Ratzinger himself. It reveals several key things.

It is a document designed to prevent dismissing a priest as young as 38. Perhaps the fast-aging priesthood was a concern and dismissing such a young priest was to be avoided. But it's clear that the age of the priest is of far more importance to Ratzinger than the age of the minors he raped. All the sympathy and concern is with the rapist, not the raped. This is a document about protecting the powerful even when they rape the powerless.

Ratzinger also seems to believe that there would be more outrage among the faithful about defrocking such a young priest than about keeping a known child-rapist in the employ of the church. It seems clear that this is not a routine dismissal letter, as the Vatican is trying to spin this morning. It specifically acknowledges the "grave significance" of the charges. Not even the most reactionary of Vatican apologists can muster a coherent defense on this one.

My only lingering question is why this case went to Ratzinger before he assumed formal responsibility for all these abuse cases in 2001. But it reveals his - and the Vatican's mindset - in the early 1980s.

The Pope cannot blame the local bishops this time - they desperately tried to get the priest fired.

He cannot claim he was out of the loop: his signature is on the letter.

He cannot get an underling to take the fall: it's his name and his office behind the unconscionable delay and behind the actual, despicably callous and self-serving reasons to protect a man who tied children up and raped them.

It's over now.

When we look at this Pope we see a man who knew that one of the priests he had authority to fire had restrained and raped children. Yet he did nothing for years, and finally sided with the priest. He had more sympathy for the relatively young age of the rapist, rather than the innocence and trauma of the raped children. 

We see a man utterly corrupted by power and institutional loyalty.

So when does he resign?

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