Priest Abuse Case Shows Mind of Church

As the Associated Press broke the news yesterday that in 1985 Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) stalled in removing an Oakland priest from the priesthood after he’d been convicted in 1978 of tying up and molesting male children, the Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, SJ tried to defend the Pope’s actions. Lombardi protested that the document produced in order to impugn the Pope was taken out of context. Let’s put the letter in context.
First, there was no single Vatican Congregation responsible for dealing with priests charged with the sexual abuse of minors until 2001 when Cardinal Ratzinger was given that task. Up until 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Ratzinger’s congregation from 1981 until 2005) was responsible for doctrinal matters including priests who solicited sexual favors in the confessional. Laicizations (leaving the priesthood) were handled by the Congregation for the Clergy. In the case of Fr. Kiesle, his bishop had recommended he seek voluntary leave (laicization) of the priesthood. Under the papacy of John Paul II, it was customary practice that those priests seeking to leave the priesthood wait until they reached the age of at least 40 (Kiesle was 38 at the time). It seems from all accounts that John Paul II sought to stem the tide of priests leaving their ministry as many had done under Pope Paul VI in the 1960’s and 1970’s. So far, all of this is understandable. However, what’s disturbing about this particular case is that at this point in the early 1980’s there was no set policy or procedure to deal with sexually abusive priests. At that time, it was left up to the individual bishop to deal with a pedophile or ephebophile priest. As we now know, too many bishops sought to ignore the issue or transfer the offending priest to another parish or another diocese where the offending priest would strike again. Furthermore, it’s disturbing to note in Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter (typed in Latin), that there is no demonstrated concern for the boys who were molested by the priest. Ratzinger mentions the “good of the church” and asks the bishop to administer “paternal care” for the offending priest. The absence of any concern for the minor victims is striking and bothersome. How is it that a shepherd of souls doesn’t express any concern for those who’ve been harmed by this bad priest? As has been the case throughout this priest abuse scandal, church authorities rarely if ever show any concern for those victimized by sexual predators. That’s the real problem and the real scandal in this case. Pope Benedict may be able to dance around “who knew what when” but he can’t skirt the issue that he appeared oblivious to the real harm done to innocent children. That’s scandalous and appalling.