12 April 2010

A timeline of the Kiesle case

After reading the documents posted on the web site of the New York Times, I have compiled the following timeline:

April 25, 1981

Fr. Louis Dabovich, Pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Pittsburgh, CA, writes to Cardinal Seper at the CDF to “recommend” Kiesle’s petition be granted “because of reverential fear or human respect and above all the immaturity and consequent lack of responsibility.” Fr. Dabovich continues, “Stephen had a very domineering mother who was instrumental in sending him to the seminary and later in seeing him ordained a Priest.”

Fr. Dabovich notes that Keisle, as a Deacon, “worked with teen-agers and children in our CCD program… Yet he acted as one of them: played ball with them; took them to outings and to shows and spent time in their homes. I was somewhat concerned, but had never received any unfavorable comments. Only some years after he left this parish did I learn of some improprieties that were going on while he was here.

Fr. Dabovich did not that prior to Kiesle’s ordination to the priesthood he spoke with the former Bishop regarding Kielse’s “literature he was reading, the magazine’s he had in his room, and in general his lack of maturity and spirituality.

Fr. Dabovich makes no mention of Kiesle’s crimes. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot be expected to have known what it was not told.

May 8, 1981

Fr. George Crespin, Chancellor of the Diocese of Oakland, writes to Cardinal Seper at the CDF to recommend that Kiesle’s petition be granted. Kiesle was an assistant to Fr. Crespin during the last three years of Kiesle’s ministry at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Union City, CA.

Fr. Crespin told Cardinal Seper that Kiesle’s family was not supportive of his ordination, that “the authorities at the seminary question whether he should continue his preparation for the priesthood,” and that Kiesle’s motivations for seeking the priesthood were “guided more by an effort to contradict the opinions of others” rather than an authentic desire.

Now the CDF has two reason Kiesle sought ordination, neither of which seem to square with the other. First, he is forced into it by his mother; second, his ego drives him forward.

Fr. Crespin went on to write that though Kiesle’s main interest pastorally was with young people, he did not relate well with adults and other activities not relating to the youth. He also notes several times that Kiesle “shows signs of an arrested development.”

Fr. Crespin does mention “the eventual difficulty that Father Kiesle had with the law because of his relationship to young children,” but fails to mention what that difficulty might have been. Or it’s frequency. Fr. Crespin says the parishioners expressed dissatisfaction with Kiesle because of his “indifference and adolescent behavior.”

Fr. Crespin says that while Crespin was on sabbatical, Kiesle because involved in “questionable relationships with young children” and that he was “confident that the Acta already possesses a sufficient description of the nature of the difficulties so I will not elaborate here.”

He mentions Kiesle received “widespread” publicity because of these questionable relationships, but does say what they involved or how serious they were, or there number.

Fr. Crespin concludes, saying Kiesle has been in therapy and “is much more able to deal with himself and with his problems than he was at the time of his difficulty,” and that it would be prudent to grant his requested dispensation.

We now have two letters to the CDF and neither of them speak to the seriousness, sinfulness or criminality of Kiesle’s past. The first does not so much as to hint at it and the second uses coded language that might only be guessed at in hindsight by one who’s native language is not English.

June 19, 1981

Bishop John Cummins, Bishop of Oakland, writes to Pope John Paul II to “present” Kiesle’s petition for laicization. Notice the Bishop does not himself petition for Kiesle’s laicization.

Saying that “quite probably Father Kiesle should never have been ordained,” Bishop Cummins notes that Kiesle “has experienced a variety of psychological, emotional, and sexual difficulties during his priesthood.”

It is in this letter, for the first time, that mention is made of Kiesle’s crimes (but not to the CDF, which did not handle these cases at this time anyway): “In August of 1978 he was arrested by the police and charged with having taken sexual liberties with at least six young men ranging from eleven to thirteen years of age during the period November 1977 through May 1978.”

Two things are of note here: first, that three years transpired before the Holy Father was notified of this, and, second, that even under canon law eleven to thirteen year olds are children and not “young men.”

The Holy Father is told Kiesle pleaded “nolo contendere” and was given a “three years suspended sentence and was to remain on probation for three years” and that Kiesle took a leave of absence at this time.

Bishop Cummins calls the media attention Kiesle received “unfortunate” and notes that Kiesle showed “great cooperation in seeking out psychiatric help when asked.” Bishop Cummins found at this time that Kiesle had a problem with “obedience and authority,” and this at a time when Bishop Cummins “arranged with two neighboring bishops to provide employment in special assignments for him outside of pastoral ministry.”

Where is the outrage against Bishop Cummins or against the other two Bishops?

Bishop Cummins suggests that, because of “Kiesle’s irrevocable decision to leave the active ministry, it would seem to me most prudent that this petition be granted.”

Again, two things here: first, the decision for Kiesle to leave the active ministry should have rested with Bishop Cummins, and, two, Bishop Cummins prior judgments regarding Kiesle don’t look too prudent.

17 November 1981

The CDF writes to Bishop Cummins requesting additional information on the case of Kiesle. This letter does not bear Cardinal Ratzinger’s signature, unless he used two very distinct signatures.

February 1, 1982

Bishop Cummins writes to Cardinal Ratzinger to respond to the CDF’s request for more information. He sends the CDF a statement of Fr. James Laubacher, whose “memory is really quite weak”; the seminary papers concerning Kiesle; and Kiesle’s oath taken at his interrogation.

These documents are not available on the web site of the New York Times. I wonder what they contain.

It is in this letter that Bishop Cummins suggests no scandal would be given if Kiesle’s petition were granted. I think he’s bit a disingenuous here.

It might be asked why it took Bishop Cummins two months to respond to the CDF’s request if he was in such a hurry for Kiesle’s petition to be granted.

September 24, 1982

Fr. George Mockel writes to Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF to inquire into the status of Kiesle’s petition.

December 20, 1983

Fr. George Mockel writes to Bishop Cummins regarding a “letter from your friend, Fr. Rev. Thomas J. Herron.” Fr. Mockel says that Keisle’s case was first sent to Rome on July 7, 1981 and that a request was sent from “Cardinal Ratzinger” for more information on November 17, 1981. Fr. Mockel says this information was sent to the CDF on February 11, 1982.

Perhaps a typographical error was made on of the two letters.

Fr. Mockel mentions a response to his letter of September 24, 1982 was received from the CDF on October 21, 1982 in which he was told the matter would be investigated “at an opportune time.”

It must be noted that the CDF has only a limited staff. It should also be noted that we are not provided a copy of this letter from the CDF.

Fr. Mockel then refers to what may be two additional cases sent to Rome involving two other priests and suggests Bishop Cummins writes a letter; the names have been blacked out.

17 January 1984

Nearly a month later, Bishop Cummins writes to Fr. John Herron who worked at the CDF. I suspect the earlier letter from the CDF bears Fr. Herron’s signature; it certainly looks like it does, much more so than Ratzinger.

Bishop Cummins says “it would be impossible to have” Kiesle return to ministry.

Remember: this decision rested squarely with Bishop Cummins, not with the CDF.

Bishop Cummins then refers to the case of a priest from Brooklyn, whose name has been blacked out.

September 13, 1985

Bishop Cummins writes to Cardinal Ratzinger to inquire as to the status of Kiesle’s case.

September 17, 1985

Fr. George Mockel writes to Bishop Cummins saying he wrote another letter to Cardinal Ratzinger.

We are not provided a copy of this letter.

September 27, 1985

Fr. Mockel writes to Cardinal Laghi and asks him to forward a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger.

November 6, 1985

Cardinal Ratzinger writes to Bishop Cummins, saying, according to the NYT’s translation, that although the CDF “regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance” more time would be needed to study the case.

The media has ignored this line of the letter.

What needs to be remembered is this: at the time, Cardinal Ratzinger was following the procedure as it was laid down in law. Priests were not to be laicized younger than 40. As soon as Kiesle turned 40, he was laicized.

12 December 1985

Fr. Mockel writes to Bishop Cummins telling him he has received on November 15, 1985 a response from Cardinal Ratzinger.

With such interest in the case previously, it seems strange to have waited for nearly a month to inform the Bishop of the letter.

January 13, 1986

Bishop Cummins writes to Kiesle to inform him of the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger.

Again, it seems strange, after his previous eagerness, to wait another month before writing to Kiesle.


  1. You know, Father, I'm confident you're right when you explain this detail of canon law:
    "Ratzinger was following the procedure as it was laid down in law. Priests were not to be laicized younger than 40."

    However, that's kinda the VERY ISSUE that so many people -- Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- are up in arms about. Church law (in this case, church bureaucracy and the details of that code) were given higher priority than the safety of children. Oh, gee, fellows, it's not our policy to remove him from the priesthood until he turns 40; that's just how we do things. Sorry.

    That doesn't fly when a man has raped children. Most parents would want the church to say of such a man, "You can and should repent. God can forgive you, and we will pray for you. But YOU CAN NO LONGER serve in any capacity as a priest. You are NO LONGER allowed to present yourself as a priest. This is non-negotiable. Raping children leads to this severe a consequence, regardless of your age."

    I suspect that's a no-brainer for most lay peoeple, even those who defer to the hierarchy of the church on all sorts of other issues. Rape a child = stop being a priest. Immediately. And many of us are amazed that there are still people in positions of leadership in the church who do not get that.

    (Could Card. Ratzinger -- and others -- not have gone to JP2 and said as much? Would have taken courage, yes, but Card. Ratzinger was a trusted adviser. Or, if he met with extreme resistance on this important matter, maybe he could have quit and written a public letter explaining why. Yes, it's that big of an issue. Some issues are worth quitting over. "What does it profit a man to gain the world yet lose his soul...")

  2. How do we not know Cardinal Ratzinger did not do just that, Steve?

    Remember: it was Cardinal Ratzinger himself who insisted that practice - of not laicizing a man under 40 years of age - be changed. It was Cardinal Ratzinger who insisted the CDF be given charge of such cases to expedite them.

    Cardinal Ratzinger is not the one to blame; the blame must be put where it righly belongs: with the bishops of these abusing priests.

    That has been my argument all along.

  3. I am writing something about Kiesle's case for an italian blog. I want only to say that in november 17 Card. Ratzinger was not Prefect of SCF yet, and this is reason why the letter does not bear his signature.