10 April 2010

Goodstein attemps to link Pope to scandal, fails again

There are few things worse than someone who refuses to be taught and the New York Times' Laurie Goodstein seems a prime example of such a student.

In her recent article, "Pope Put Off Punishing Abusive Priest," of which the headline itself is false, Goodstein attempts a second time to link Pope Benedict XVI to the sex abuse scandal. And again she fails, simply because she does not acknowledge history.

Her text follows, with my emphases and comments:

The priest, convicted of tying up and abusing two young boys in a California church rectory, wanted to leave the ministry [and whom might that be? This reads more like a novel than a respectable news story].

But in 1985, four years after the priest and his bishop first asked that he be defrocked, the future Pope Benedict XVI, then a top Vatican official [whose office didn't oversee such cases until 2001, as Goodstein such well know by now], signed a letter saying that the case needed more time and that “the good of the Universal Church” had to be considered in the final decision, according to church documents released through lawsuits.

That decision did not come for two more years [still fourteen years before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had responsibility for such cases], the sort of delay that is fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal in the church [only in the eyes of Goodstein and company] that has focused on whether the future pope moved quickly enough to remove known pedophiles from the priesthood [at the time she is discussing, the decision was not his to make], despite pleas from American bishops [the bishops can remove a priest from active ministry without the consent or direction of the Holy See. As Jimmy Akin rightly points out, laicization is not really at the heart of the matter, but a swift removal from ministry].

As the scandal has deepened, the pope’s defenders have said that, well before he was elected pope in 2005, he grew ever more concerned about sexual abuse and weeding out pedophile priests [which is obvious to anyone who actually examines the facts]. But the case of the California priest, the Rev. Stephen Kiesle, and the trail of documents first reported on Friday by The Associated Press, shows, in this period at least, little urgency [it wasn't his task to see to the case].

The letter that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later pope, wrote in Latin in 1985, mentions Father Kiesle’s young age — 38 at the time — as one consideration in whether he should be forced from the priesthood. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was wrong to draw conclusions based on one letter, without carefully understanding the context in which it was written [and he is entirely right in this].

“It’s evident that it’s not an in-depth and serious use of documents,” he said [that's certainly true]. Earlier Friday, Father Lombardi suggested that the pope would be willing to meet with sexual abuse victims.

But John S. Cummins, the former bishop of Oakland who repeatedly wrote his superiors in Rome urging that the priest be defrocked [but it seems he kept writing to the wrong office; it he was serious about his urging there isn't much too show for it], said the Vatican in that era, after the Second Vatican Council, was especially reluctant to dismiss priests because so many were abandoning the priesthood.

As a result, he said, Pope John Paul II “really slowed down the process and made it much more deliberate.”

The letters and memos, released to The New York Times by Jeff Anderson, a co-counsel representing some of the priests’ victims [who obviously has a financial stake in these clearly false allegations], reveal a rising level of exasperation among church officials in Oakland about the delays from the Vatican.

Bishop Cummins wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger in February 1982: “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted [I find this assertion impossible to accept] 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 [with this I agree, but this decision belonged not to Cardinal Ratzinger but to Bishop Cummins himself. Why would the bishop not accept this responsibility?].”

In late 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger had just been appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal office [which was not responsible for such cases until 2001]. This office was supposed to handle abuse cases only when they were considered violations of the sacrament of Confession [which doesn't seem to be the case with Kiesle], before the policies were clarified in 2001 and the doctrinal office took on all the abuse cases [so...if Goodstein knows this, how can she make the claims about Ratzinger she does with any sense of journalistic integrity but less simple decency?]. (It is unclear why the doctrinal office was handling the case of Mr. Kiesle in the 1980s) [What evidence is there that the CDF was handling the case? All that has been brought forth as "evidence" is a couple of letters that seem to be more advisory than anything else].

Bishop Cummins had first petitioned the doctrinal office to defrock Mr. Kiesle in 1981. He also wrote directly to Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger requested more information, which officials in the Oakland Diocese supplied in February 1982. They did not hear back from Cardinal Ratzinger until 1985, when he sent the letter in Latin suggesting that his office needed more time to evaluate the case.

The Rev. George Mockel, a diocesan official in Oakland, wrote in a memo to Bishop Cummins: “Basically they are going to sit on it until Steve gets quite a bit older. My own feeling is that this is unfortunate.”

Mr. Kiesle was finally defrocked in 1987 [this is not an accurage term, and certainly not a canonical one].

Mr. Kiesle was convicted for the first time of child molesting in 1978, just six years after he was ordained [and three years before the case was apparently brought before Cardinal Ratzinger, reasons for which are still not certain. Again, how serious was Bishop Cummins in requesting Kiesle's laicization? Why has Goodstein not written an article castigating Bishop Cummins for "putting off" punishing an abusive priest?]. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct while he was a pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City, Calif.

Mike Brown, a spokesman for the Oakland Diocese, said that after Mr. Kiesle was convicted, the diocese withdrew permission for him to work as a minister [so...he was removed from ministry three years before the petition for laicization?]. Mr. Kiesle served three years’ probation for his misdemeanor and underwent treatment, enabling him to eventually get his record wiped clean [where is the outrage at civil authorities for this?].

In 1985, while the bishop in Oakland was pressing Cardinal Ratzinger to defrock Mr. Kiesle, the priest [who had been removed from ministry seven years earlier] began volunteering in the youth ministry at one of his former parishes [this would be the fault of dreadful oversight - or really lack thereof - on the part of the Diocese and would have nothing to do with the CDF], St. Joseph’s in Pinole, Calif., news reports say.

Maurine Behrend, a former employee in the diocese’s youth ministry office, recalled encountering Mr. Kiesle at a Youth Day in April 1988 and learning from another minister that Mr. Kiesle had been convicted of molestation. Ms. Behrend alerted the head of the youth ministry office and personally warned Bishop Cummins two weeks later.

In May 1988, she wrote an outraged letter to a church official, demanding to know why “a convicted church molester is currently the youth ministry coordinator at St. Joseph’s parish in Pinole.”

Bishop Cummins, who is now 82, contested news reports that Mr. Kiesle was volunteering at his old parish for three years, saying diocesan officials would have heard and acted earlier [yet they waited three years to write to Rome? Something doesn't quite add up]. Bishop Cummins did not recall ever being alerted, despite Ms. Behrend’s irate letter.

Bishop Cummins said Mr. Kiesle was finally removed from his volunteer position when the bishop happened to bump into him at a child’s confirmation ceremony at the parish. The next day, the bishop said he made sure Mr. Kiesle was banned from working at the parish.

In 2002, Mr. Kiesle was charged in several cases of molestation, including abusing at least a half-dozen young girls while at his former parishes in the 1960s and 1970s. But those charges had to be dropped when the United States Supreme Court struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations on child molestation cases [again, where the outrage against civil authorities?].

He eventually pleaded no contest in 2004 to a separate felony charge of molesting a child at his vacation home in Truckee, Calif., in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Rick Simons, an attorney in Hayward, Calif., who represented two of the victims who later sued the Diocese of Oakland, said he met Father Kiesle when he took his deposition in prison.

“Of all the priests who abused children that I have met, and there’s probably a couple dozen, he was by far the most evil, remorseless sociopath of the lot,” he said.

Mr. Kiesle was released, and is listed in California’s sex offenders registry as living in Walnut Creek, Ca. He lives in a gated community, where guards on Friday prevented a reporter from approaching his home.

Mr. Simons said that about eight victims of Mr. Kiesle reached a settlement with the Diocese of Oakland in 2005, and that on average each received about $1 million to $1.5 million.


  1. Father, if you don't mind, a couple questions...

    1. Which office at the Vatican would have been responsible circa 1985 for handling laicization requests (either from a bishop or a priest himself)? If that was the Congregation for Clergy, shouldn't Card. Ratzinger have sent the request over there pronto, rather than handle a request for which his office was not responsible? Especially considering the reason (crime) which was the basis for the request?

    2. In responding to the bishop's letter with his own letter (bearing his signature), didn't Card. Ratzinger effectively take on some degree of responsibility for how the laicization procedure progressed or didn't progress?

    3. In WHAT context, exactly, would delaying the abuser's laicization for the "general good of the church" make any sense? Maybe the Latin has been poorly translated? Aside from that, how could delaying or "studying" the question really serve the welfare of the faithful or the faith?

    4. Why would Card. Ratzinger argue for considering the matter further (i.e., delaying laicization) based on the priest's relative youth? Doesn't that point from the cardinal's letter suggest undue concern for how the process would effect the priest, rather than the Catholic faithful (especially vulnerable children)?

    Yes, these are loaded questions, but I think they are reasonable ones. Like many Catholics I know, I'm not incensed by what or how the NY Times has reported this scandal; rather, I'm appalled (in a stomach-turning way) by questions such as those above, questions I can't easily put aside. Thank you in advance for your time in responding. (You're a decent guy and a smart man, and I respect you even when we disagree.)

  2. Many thanks for this very helpful posting. It is so sad that none of those in leadership in our Church would give people like me who are deeply distressed by recent events, the kind of analysis this posting has done. I feel like those who lived through the agony of the reformation - everything which they hold dear falling around them while clowns like the papal preacher play self-serving inhouse court politics. Many thanks Fr Zehnle,

  3. I'm always happy to answer your questions, Steve.

    1. A good question and I regret to say that I'm not certain. I haven't been able to track down an English version of the document that transferred such cases to the CDF. The CDF had part of the Kiesle case becasue he himself (not the Diocese) requested dismissal from the clerical state - without, it seems, any mention of the abuse scandal in his past - and the CDF has always handled these cases. Had Cardinal Ratzinger known of the abuse I'm certain the case would have been transferred.

    2. Yes, but in no relation to the Kiesle's past abuse.

    3/4. In the context of further examining a man's maturity. It was the custom not to release a priest from the obligations of celibacy until his fortieth birthday, in part, I suspect, to make sure his request was not simply a passing desire. Once dismissed from the clerical state one isn't simply brought back in. And if the Vatican is unaware of any history of abuse, it would naturally see a priest "leaving the priesthood" as a scandal to the faithful.

    They are certainly reasonable questions and I hope I have provided reasonable answers.

    I'm appalled at the way the New York Times and the Associated Press simply leaves out essential matters pertaining to these cases in their attempt to destroy the Pope.

  4. Father,

    Thanks for your response, thoughtful as always. I get the impression, though, that you think the CDF (including Card. Ratzinger) was NOT given any background information about Kiesle's history (particularly his conviction for child molestation). Yet Bish. Cummins' statement in support of laicization seems to suggest that he did reveal some or all of that history to the CDF: "... 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." I get the really strong impression that he made the "nature" of Kiesle's situation clear to the CDF. Yes, it sure would be nice to know the facts on that point one way or the other, but wouldn't it seem unlikely that Cummins would bring up "the nature of the case" without any supporting details? He was, after all, trying to persuade the CDF to act. Rhetorically speaking, I have to assume the bishop would have supported his "thesis" with details.

    For what it's worth, I'm not someone who thinks the pope absolutely has to resign, but I do think the church would be served by him sitting down for an in-depth interview (not conducted through spokespersons) in which he replies to specific questions about a number of cases where he was archbishop, signed an important letter, etc. Not much (any?) precedent for that, I know, but what I recall of the doctrine of infalibility is that there is no pretense that the pope (either while pope or prior to that time) is incapable of making mistakes, making poor administrative decisions, failing to exercise due diligence on occasion, etc. The pope's admission of that in specific cases would HELP, not hurt, the healing (in my humble opinion).

    Peace to you, Father.

  5. To be honest, Steve, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Bishop Cummins hadn't revealed the nature of the case. If he were interested in doing so he would have requested the laicization of Kiesle himself.

    If we could be certain that the reporters would not do what they've already done by ignoring facts, then I'd be happy for the Holy Father to sit down to an interview.

    As it is, we have no reason to believe that evident - even his words - won't be twisted or even ignored. Simply consider the NYT case where is supposed to have encouraged the transfer of a priest at a meeting for which he wasn't even present.

    You're right to say that infallibility does not apply to administrative matters. Even so, you're asking for an admission of what - according to those involved in these cases and the documents themselves - did not occur.

    As to your earlier question about who used to handle these abuse cases, I believe it was the Rota.

  6. That is such an important point which you make about the grounds given by Kiesle in his application. I assumed for no reason that CDF would have been supplied with the full story.

    Even after reading yesterday your enlightening posting it took 24 hours for the deep depression which these recent events caused to depart. I am so blessed by all I have received from the Church but never have I experienced such shame.

    Thanks for being able to go to church today and pray before the picture of the Divine Mercy.

    May God continue to bless your pastoral work, Father Zehnle.