All deliberate speed

Historical snapshot: Cardinal Ratzinger slow-walks a child molestation casethe

Per the AP

– In August of 1978, Fr. Stephen Kiesle of the Diocese of Oakland pleaded “no contest” to a charge of lewd conduct “for tying up and molesting two boys.” There were actually (at least) six victims, ranging in age from 11 to 13.
– In July of 1981, Kiesle petitioned (under pressure from his Bishop?) to be removed from the priesthood, and the Bishop forwarded the petition to Rome, where it was handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Josef Cardinal Ratzinger.
– While the case was pending – with Ratzinger’s office repeatedly sending it back with demands for more information and at one point saying that it had lost the file and needed to have the whole case resubmitted – Kiesel was “volunteering” as the youth ministry co-ordinator in an Oakland parish. The bishop continued to agitate for action.
– In 1987, Kiesel was finally laicized. He was subsequently convicted again (with some additional charges barred by the statute of limitations) and did prison time.

Here’s the full text (translated from the Latin) of a letter to the Bishop from Cardinal Ratzinger written in November of 1985:

Most Excellent Bishop:

Having received your letter of September 13 of this year, regarding the matter of the removal from all priestly burdens pertaining to Rev. Stephen Miller Kiesle in your diocese, it is my duty to share with you the following:

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.

Let me take this occasion to convey sentiments of the highest regard always to you.

Your most Reverend Excellency

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

As to Fr. Kiesle’s “young age”: at the time of the letter, he was 38 years old. Some of his victims were young children, male and female (he molested one girl three times before she reached the age of seven), which makes nonsense of the attempts by the Pope and his flacks to try to make the issue homosexuality rather than child molestation.

More documents here. It appears that Ratzinger saw this as an attempt by Kiesle to free himself from his vows, rather an attempt by the Diocese to rid itself of a child molester. Back then the Church was suffering an outflow of priests, especially younger ones. Ratzinger might well have been worried that granting one petition for laicization might lead to more such petitions. What’s the Latin for “stop-loss order”? Or maybe it was just his basic bully’s temper at work; Kiesle wanted something, and Ratzinger had the power to deny it.

If there’s a God in Heaven (which seems doubtful) this will help bring down the “Universal Church.” Cleansing the mess John Paul II left behind him would require the diversion of a navigable river; the Tiber, as I recall, is conveniently located. In the meantime, can we at least stop paying attention to the views of this rather creepy elderly authoritarian and his co-conspirators about sexual ethics?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

21 thoughts on “All deliberate speed”

  1. Dante Alighieri has prepared a place for these guys. Exactly which ditch of which circle is left as an exercise.

  2. Mark writes, "It appears that Ratzinger saw this as an attempt by Kiesle to free himself from his vows, rather an attempt by the Diocese to rid itself of a child molester. (…) Back then the Church was suffering an outflow of priests, especially younger ones. Ratzinger might well have been worried that granting one petition for laicization might lead to more such petitions."

    The priest wanted out (my view), the diocese agreed, so I find it hard to believe that the delay in expelling him was because of 'mere' priest-retention reasons. I think a bigger factor is in play.

    This looks like a case of theology dictating action. I'm guessing that priests are deemed part of the collective and can't be tossed out summarily without, somehow, injuring the church.

  3. Wake up calls:

    What "72 virgins awaiting martyrs" did to the concept of heaven…

    Which is to say: Erode the very idea away as being insane…

    So too…

    Will Pope Ratzinger's behavior do to sacerdotalism and infallibility.

    Which is also all to say: Soon enough if not already…

    Religion and nationalism will be the last and sole refuges for scoundrels and racists.

  4. If there’s a God in Heaven …

    it is highly doubtful that this would be the church that God would want to be served by.

  5. Once again, contingency-fee lawyers suing the Church have passed along a carefully anthologized set of documents to a reporter along with the least charitable interpretation of the Church's actions possible and the reporter has run with a story that treats that interpretation as fact. In other contexts we might recognize this as "hack reporting" or "professional misconduct" but hey, Pope Benedict is meeeeaaaan so anything goes.

    Here's what we know:

    1) A thoroughly evil and sick priest in the Diocese of Oakland abused two minors in an especially heinous manner.

    2) The state of California (which, the last I checked – is not an arm of the Catholic Church) gave him a sentence of 3 years probation. That's zero jail time for a nolo plea on sexual abuse of two minors, for those of you keeping track at home.

    3) The Bishop of Oakland meanwhile removed him from ministry and stripped him of his ecclesial faculties. In other words, he was banned from functioning as a priest.

    4) The priest (not the Diocese) petitioned to be dismissed from the clerical state and the associated vow of celibacy. The Diocese wrote to the CDF in support of this petition.

    5) The priest meanwhile violated his orders not to engage in ministry by volunteering with youth programs at a Church in the Diocese. There's some controversy about whether the Diocese knew about this (of course, there's no way the CDF knew about this), but in any event when the Bishop happened to run into the Priest at a Church function he immediately put a stop to it.

    6) The CDF (under the direction of Cardinal Ratzinger) expressed concern about moving too quickly in granting the priest's petition to be released from his clerical vows.

    Now, the previously mentioned contingency-fee lawyers would have you believe that the CDF "delayed" because of some dark ulterior motive. But they of course have no earthly idea why the CDF took the course of action it did. It can't be to avoid publicity, since the priest's crimes were already a matter of public record. Maybe the CDF didn't want to be seen as rewarding a convicted pedophile by granting his request quickly.

    I mean, come on people. The fact that the CDF moved slowly to grant a request made by a pedophile priest is somehow evidence of going soft on him? Does that make any sense in the world? The CDF was not involved in this case because of the abuse itself and the issue of punishing the priest. The CDF had no jurisdiction over such cases in the early 1980s. It was involved purely because the priest had made a petition to be released from the clerical state. In other wotrds, he wanted a favor. He was already banned from active ministry, and his crimes were of course well known to the civil authorities. The CDF's actions didn't put a single child at risk – the priest demonstrated that he had no trouble finding new victims years after his petition was eventually granted.

    P.S. I await a translation of Ratzinger's letter by someone who knows modern ecclesial Latin. The translation provided is from a professor of classics at USC whose academic work is focused on ancient Roman letters. Classical Latin and the Latin of the modern Church bureaucracy are of course similar, in much the way that the language of John Milton and the language of a Cisco Human Resources memo are similar. This is especially relevant given the fact that a few weeks ago the NY Times ran with a story implying that the CDF blocked punishment of a Wisconsin priest who had abused ~200 deaf children. Problem is, the "smoking gun" document in that case was written in Italian, and the Times used a circa 1997 free Yahoo! online translation as the source for its story. Unsurprisngly, once actual translators got a chance to go through the document, they noted that the free Yahoo! translation contained errors which led to a complete mis-read of the decisions recorded in the document. Paper of Record, don't you know.

  6. The question is: What would have happened if he had been successful in his petition in 1981. Would the church have then just showed him the door and washed their hands of him? Thus releasing a child molester into the general world with no supervision at all.

    Is it possible that the church refused to let him go because they considered this to be their problem? And that keeping him in the church meant they retained some control over him?

  7. The priest meanwhile violated his orders not to engage in ministry by volunteering with youth programs at a Church in the Diocese. There’s some controversy about whether the Diocese knew about this (of course, there’s no way the CDF knew about this), but in any event when the Bishop happened to run into the Priest at a Church function he immediately put a stop to it.

    The CDF’s actions didn’t put a single child at risk …

    sd, you really think that second statement holds up in light of the first statement?

  8. SD,

    Once you're done slagging laywers, gays, California, hippys, or whomever else the church is attempting to change the subject with this week, you're left with a pattern of priests abusing their authority by molesting kids of both genders (although mostly boys) across many, many years and countries, and a central authority that has spent (tens? hundreds?) millions of dollars attempting to keep it quiet and shuffling priests off to places where their names are unknown.

    The central authority in question is headed by someone who's left a lot of suggstive traces before, and now directly left fingerprints on this one. In his role before his recent promotion, his job was dealing with these things. This case demonstrates that at least not all of these sickening stories were handled by his underlings, keeping him Reaganesquely unaware of what was going on.

    Mounting a nifty little defense on one, or a half-dozen, of priests being reassigned after diddling their charges, well, that's what apologists and lawyers are for, right? It becomes a bit more difficult when the trickle becomes a downpour.

    By the way, since we're apparently interested in financial arrangements involved in the councilors involved, how many does lawyers does the Church retain to defend their pedophile priests?

  9. SRW1 said:

    "sd, you really think that second statement holds up in light of the first statement?"


    Look, there seems to be some confusion about what laicization (referred to in the purple prose of the NY Times and the AP as "defrocking") entails. The priest in question, Fr. Stephen Kiesle, was ordered by his Bishop to refrain from active ministry when he was first convicted of child molestation. In other words, he was already banned from acting as a minister of the Church in any capacity. Laicization would have simply relieved him of the vows he took when he became a priest. He could have gotten married, would not have been required to submit to the authority of his Bishop, etc. In other words, he would have had greater freedom under Church law.

    He later took on a volunteer role in a Church in direct violation of the terms of his punishment. If he had been laicized, he still could have taken on that same role. Let's repeat that – if he had been laicized he still could have taken on that same role. If a man is willing to violate his Bishop's order that he not engage in ministry while he's a priest, what on God's green Earth makes you think he would be willing to obey a directive from the Bishop after he had been formally released from the obligation to obey the Bishop?

    And let's not forget that AFTER he was eventually laicized he still found a way to molest more children. Its not like the Church has the authority to lock guys like this up (The State of California has that authority, but chose instead to punish him with 3 years' probation for molesting two children, after which he had his criminal record wiped clean because he agreed to go to therapy during his probation.). Once he's laicized he can do whatever he pleases. Its true that if he were functioning as a minister of the Church he would have access to children and that that access would facilitate further abuse. But he was stripped of the right to act as a minister of the Church years before the laicization petition was filed.

    The NY Times headline (on the website – at the current hour) reads "Pope put off punishing abusive priest." How in the world is that an accurate headline given the fact that the "punishment" referred to was requested by the priest himself? If this was a case where the laicization was a punishment, then his Bishop would have been empowered to laicize him himself without any action from Rome. This would have involved a lengthy trial, and had the laicization been against the priest's wishes he would have had the right to appeal a decision of laicization to the Roman Rota. But that's not the case here. In this case the priest wanted to be laicized. And the CDF followed protocol in not granting this request because he was under 40 years of age. At the time of ordaination, priests make a lifelong promise to remain celibate. Most adhere to that promise throughout their entire life. Sadly, some do not, and tragically, some break their promise by abusing minors. But in any event, its a favor and privledge for the Church to release a priest from that promise. The offedning priest in this case was seeking a favor from Rome, and he didn't get it. But the news reports are about how the Vatican was "soft" on him. The fact that his Bishop supported his petition makes no difference whatsoever.

    The Times article contains the following paragraph:

    "In late 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger had just been appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal office. This office was supposed to handle abuse cases only when they were considered violations of the sacrament of Confession, before the policies were clarified in 2001 and the doctrinal office took on all the abuse cases. (It is unclear why the doctrinal office was handling the case of Mr. Kiesle in the 1980s)."

    Its only "unclear" because the Times reporters don't know what they're talking about (not the first time in this current wave of "coverage"). This matter wasn't forwarded to the CDF because it was an abuse case where there was a question of punishing the priest. The priest's own local Bishop had the authority to punish him, and did years earlier by banning him from ministry. The case was at the CDF because it involved a voluntary request by a priest to be removed from the "clerical state."

  10. sd, you're certainly putting a lot of effort into it, but you're not convincing.

    Let' go through it again:

    1. Priest is convicted of having abused a minor.

    2. Priest petitions to be dismissed from his clerical state.

    3. Diocese agrees with the request, but CDF denies it.

    4. Priest is 'kept around' by he diocese, but ordered not to engage in ministry.

    5. Priest violates that order and 'volunteers' in youth program.

    And that is compatible with your claim of "The CDF's action did not put a single child at risk"? Even though, as you yourself point out, after his laicization, the former priest committed more acts of child molestation. So he was a danger to children before and after, but not during his 'volunteering' for the youth program.

    Sorry, even if you try even more verbosely, I'm not buying.

  11. Assume arguendo that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in sitting on the request to laicize Fr. Kiesle, did no worse than the judge who sentenced him to three years of probation.

    Personally, I’m fine with the proposition that the current Pope should be accorded no more respect as a moral leader than some California district judge. But sd, is this really the most you can argue for?

  12. "…At the time of ordaination, priests make a lifelong promise to remain celibate. Most adhere to that promise throughout their entire life. Sadly, some do not, and tragically, some break their promise by abusing minors." Looks like somebody, institutions included, still confuse predation with sexual impulse.

    Perhaps I am too ignorant of catholic church law. Is there no predatory or criminal act for which law enforcement would be called since the only "authority" is the pope? Does the church merely respond to publicity and peer pressure regarding civil/criminal legal matters when forced? They think they are a law unto themselves? How does that work in a world of a few billion other people?

  13. Apparently the late 1970s were practically the friggin' Dark Ages concerning child rape. (See also Polanski.) The fact that Kiesle was sentenced to nothing more than three years probation reflects badly on the judge and the justice system, and puts the RC Church's actions during that time into a context that makes them look less outrageous.

    Regarding this particular letter that was sent in 1984 by Ratzinger, I'm finding sd's reasoning a lot more persuasive than that of SRW1. In short, freeing Kiesle from his vows wouldn't really have been a punishment, so the fact that Ratzinger's office took a long time before doing so isn't really good or bad.

  14. sd's reasoning makes perfect sense in that the church had no means to control the man's actions other than giving him a direct order.

    It would seem the only other authority that could have interviened would be the courts. It has been said that the Church has a traditional unwillingness to hand over authority to secular institutions like governments but that seems to be the real mistake in all of this. If this were a secular organization the police would have been braught in and the oganization would have done everything to wash their hands of the individual.

  15. SRW1:

    If the priest had been laicized in 1981 when he filed his original petition he still could have shown up at a church against his Bishop's wishes and volunteered to work with children. The delay in granting the laicization did not make him "more free" to work with children because he had already been banned from ministry at the time of his original conviction.

    Your logic makes no sense specifically in light of his further abuse. If laicization is some sort of magic spell that prevents a man from abusing children, and Cardinal Ratzinger withheld laicization because he's eeeevil, then how did the man abuse more children after being laicized? I mean, you seem to be arguing that if he had been laicized in 1981 when he first petitioned then he somehow would have been prevented from abusing children, yet he managed to find a way to abuse more children after 1987 when he was in fact granted his petition for laicization.

    If he had been permitted to engage in active ministry during this time then you might have a point. But he was banned from active ministry. He violated that ban, went behind the bishop's back and volunteered in a youth program. But that just proves he's a liar and a con man, something that laicization would not have changed one bit.

  16. Seth,

    No, that's not my argument. The decisions of the secular authorities really aren't relevant to the question of the decisions of Church authorities.

    But as a sideline, I do think its interesting to point out that in the early 1980s it wasn't just the Church that treated instances of the sexual abuse of minors less seriously than they do today. Secular governments and society at large didn't seem to think that abuse was nearly as heinous as they do today either.

    Its easy to forget that the various "Megan's Laws" have been on the books for only a few years. That the conventional wisdom, accepted by almost everyone in contemporary U.S. society, that a person who sexually abuses minors should be tracked, monitored and kept away from minors in the future, is in fact not that longstanding.

    I mean, not only did this guy get only probation, and only for three years for tying up and sexually abusing two children, he got his record wiped clean for agreeing to go to therapy during his probation. There's no way the guy doesn't do hard time if he were convicted of the same crime today, and he would for the rest of his life be required to register as a sex offender wherever he lived. But today isn't 1978. Which is perhaps useful to keep in mind when assessing whether this or that Church offical was "aggressive enough" in punishing abuser priests 20, 30, or 50 years ago.

  17. Fred,

    That would be convincing if the Catholic church had about the same pull as, say, NAMBLA. In that hypothetical case, I would be fine with saying the church did all it could, and even if it seemed to drag along endlessly, at worst it were mere machinery in a little group of like-minded people.

    Check back in when NAMBLA is a nation-state with sovereign immunity.

  18. It's, ehh, good to see that sd is continuing his brave apologia for child-raping witch doctors.

  19. Fishbane writes,

    Check back in when NAMBLA is a nation-state with sovereign immunity

    The problem, surely, is that NAMBLA is a nation-state with sovereign immunity. It's called the Stato della Città del Vaticano, and owes its existence to a deal cut between an earlier pope and Italy's then fascist dictator Mussolini.

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