AP EXCLUSIVE: Future pope stalled pedophile case
By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Associated Press Writer
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Future Pope Resisted Defrocking Abusive Priest
LOS ANGELES, April 9 (AP) -- The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including "the good of the universal church," according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.
The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican's insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog office.
The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.
The Vatican refused to comment on the contents of the letter Friday, but a spokesman confirmed it bore Ratzinger's signature.
"The press office doesn't believe it is necessary to respond to every single document taken out of context regarding particular legal situations," the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. "It is not strange that there are single documents which have Cardinal Ratzinger's signature."
The diocese recommended removing Kiesle (KEEZ'-lee) from the priesthood in 1981, the year Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican office that shared responsibility for disciplining abusive priests.
The case then languished for four years at the Vatican before Ratzinger finally wrote to Oakland Bishop John Cummins. It was two more years before Kiesle was removed; during that time he continued to do volunteer work with children through the church.
In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of "grave significance" but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with "as much paternal care as possible" while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.
But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the "good of the universal church" and the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age." Kiesle was 38 at the time.
Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory.
As his probation ended in 1981, Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood and the diocese submitted papers to Rome to defrock him.
In his earliest letter to Ratzinger, Cummins warned that returning Kiesle to ministry would cause more of a scandal than stripping him of his priestly powers.
"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.
While papers obtained by the AP include only one letter with Ratzinger's signature, correspondence and internal memos from the diocese refer to a letter dated Nov. 17, 1981, from the then-cardinal to the bishop. Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a week later.
California church officials wrote to Ratzinger at least three times to check on the status of Kiesle's case. At one point, a Vatican official wrote to say the file may have been lost and suggested resubmitting materials.
Diocese officials considered writing Ratzinger again after they received his 1985 response to impress upon him that leaving Kiesle in the ministry would harm the church, Rev. George Mockel wrote in a memo to the Oakland bishop.
"My own reading of this letter is that basically they are going to sit on it until Steve gets quite a bit older," the memo said. "Despite his young age, the particular and unique circumstances of this case would seem to make it a greater scandal if he were not laicized."
As Kiesle's fate was being weighed in Rome, the priest returned to suburban Pinole to volunteer as a youth minister at St. Joseph Church, where he had served as associate pastor from 1972 to 1975.
Kiesle was ultimately stripped of his priestly powers in 1987, though the documents do not indicate when, how or why. They also don't indicate what role - if any - Ratzinger had in the decision.
Kiesle continued to volunteer with children, according to Maurine Behrend, who worked in the Oakland diocese's youth ministry office in the 1980s. After learning of his history, Behrend complained to church officials. When nothing was done she wrote a letter, which she showed to the AP.
"Obviously nothing has been done after EIGHT months of repeated notifications," she wrote. "How are we supposed to have confidence in the system when nothing is done? A simple phone call to the pastor from the bishop is all it would take."
She eventually confronted Cummins at a confirmation and Kiesle was gone a short time later, Behrend said.
Kiesle was arrested and charged in 2002 with 13 counts of child molestation from the 1970s. All but two were thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a California law extending the statute of limitations.
He pleaded no contest in 2004 to a felony for molesting a young girl in his Truckee home in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in state prison.
Kiesle, now 63 and a registered sex offender, lives in a Walnut Creek gated community, according to his address listed on the Megan's Law sex registry. An AP reporter was turned away when attempting to reach him for comment.
William Gagen, an attorney who represented Kiesle in 2002, did not return a call for comment.
More than a half-dozen victims reached a settlement in 2005 with the Oakland diocese alleging Kiesle had molested them as young children.
"He admitted molesting many children and bragged that he was the Pied Piper and said he tried to molest every child that sat on his lap," said Lewis VanBlois, an attorney for six Kiesle victims who interviewed the former priest in prison. "When asked how many children he had molested over the years, he said 'tons.'"
Cummins, the now-retired bishop, told the AP during an interview at his Oakland home that he "didn't really care for" Kiesle, but he didn't recall writing to Ratzinger concerning the case.
"I wish I did write to Cardinal Ratzinger. I don't think I was that smart," Cummins, now 82, told AP.
Documents obtained by the AP last week revealed similar instances of Vatican stalling in cases involving two Arizona clergy.
In one case, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.
In the second, the bishop called Msgr. Robert Trupia a "major risk factor" in a letter to Ratzinger. There is no indication in those files that Ratzinger responded.
The Vatican has called the accusations "absolutely groundless" and said the facts were being misrepresented.
And here's the second AP story today, this one implicating John Paul II...
Letter shows Canadian church knew
of abuse allegations before priest's
promotion to Vatican
ROB GILLIES Associated Press Writer
4:55 PM CDT, April 9, 2010
This 1984 photo shows Monsignor Bernard Prince, center, during a meeting between Canadian singer Celine Dion, left, and Pope John Paul II.
TORONTO, April 9 (AP) — A letter written by a late Canadian bishop shows Church officials in Canada knew of sexual abuse allegations involving a priest before his promotion to a top Vatican post and then discussed with Vatican officials how to keep the scandal from becoming public.
The four-page letter was written on Feb. 10, 1993 by the late Bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke, Ontario, and sent to the pope's envoy to Canada, Carlo Curis. Its contents were released this week as an exhibit in a civil lawsuit.
The letter raised concerns about Monsignor Bernard Prince, a friend of the late Pope John Paul II. Prince served as secretary-general of the Vatican's Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which works with missionary societies, from 1991 until he retired in 2004.
Windle advised the Vatican to avoid honoring or promoting Prince in any way because it might anger abuse victims and lead them to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits.
"The consequences of such an action would be disastrous, not only for the Canadian church but for the Holy See as well," the bishop wrote.
The Vatican embassy in Ottawa referred all requests for comment to the Pembroke diocese and to the Vatican in Rome. Vatican officials in Rome did not answer their phones.
In a statement released Friday, the Diocese of Pembroke said the recently released documents "demonstrate it has done its best to be proactive and responsible" in following Canadian church policies on handling allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
The current Pembroke Bishop Michael Mulhall expressed "sympathy and concern" for Prince's victims and pledged that the diocese would be "open and transparent" in dealing with the facts of the case.
It wasn't until 2005 that the Ontario Provincial Police received a complaint from a man claiming that he had been molested by Prince in 1969. Prince is currently serving a four-year sentence after being convicted in 2008 of sexually molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984. He was defrocked last year by Pope Benedict XVI.
But in 1990, a man complained to Ontario church officials that he had been abused by Prince as a boy. The victim told The Associated Press that he indicated to a Pembroke church official that he wouldn't contact the police, but wanted to make sure that Prince would be supervised and counseled by church officials.
The victim, a 53-year-old who cannot be identified because of a court publication ban, said the Pembroke diocese clearly knew of allegations against the priest a year before Prince became a top Vatican official in 1991.
"That's the sad thing. He was promoted," the victim said.
In its statement, the Pembroke diocese said the victim "was encouraged to refer the allegations to the civil authorities" in accordance with Canadian church protocols, but "his decision at the time was not to do so."
However, the victim in a response to the diocese's statement e-mailed to The Associated Press disputed its account.
"At no point in my meetings with the diocese did they encourage me to call the police," he said. "At no point did they offer to call the police on my behalf." The victim said that Windle never attended any meetings with him and church officials at the time.
In 1992, a year before the letter was written, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a protocol that recommended that bishops should contact police if allegations of sexual abuse involve minors.
In his 1993 letter, Windle said other Canadian bishops were informed of the complaint, and the Toronto archbishop had indicated Prince was no longer welcome in his archdiocese unless he underwent psychiatric treatment.
Windle wrote that when Prince was first proposed for the Vatican position, he had advised at least one Vatican archbishop, Jose Sanchez, now a cardinal, about the complaint against Prince. However, Windle said he advised Sanchez that he believed the Vatican appointment should still proceed.
Windle said he had told Sanchez that "while the charge against Fr. Prince was very serious, I would not object to him being given another chance since it would remove him from the Canadian scene."
Windle wrote that "at that time we were under the impression that the incident was isolated, in the distant past, and there was little or no danger of any scandal ever emerging."
But after Prince took up his Vatican post, Windle wrote the papal nuncio in Ottawa that the "situation has become more precarious" because the Canadian church was now aware that there were four or five men claiming to have been abused by Prince when they were boys.
Windle expressed concern that any papal recognition of Prince might "trigger a reaction among the victim (s)," resulting in criminal charges or civil lawsuits being filed that would "prove extremely embarrassing" both to the Vatican and Pembroke diocese. He wrote that all of the bishops of Ontario agreed with his assessment.
Windle wrote that a public scandal had been avoided only because the victims "are of Polish descent and their respect for the priesthood and the Church has made them refrain from making these allegations public or laying a criminal charge against a priest."
The Pembroke diocese said that at the time Windle wrote his letter there was still uncertainty about the allegations against Prince which were gradually surfacing from different sources. It noted that Windle wrote in his letter that the church has "no way of assessing the total accuracy of these reports."
Windle's letter said that he had previously discussed the Prince case with the papal nuncio by telephone and fax. The letter's contents were first reported by Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper on Friday.
The letter was entered as an exhibit this week in a civil lawsuit filed by abuse victims against the Pembroke diocese that seeks answers to a variety of questions, including whether the Vatican was informed after the diocese received a complaint about Prince and if so why the priest continued to serve in a prestigious post at the side of the late pope.
Prince, who grew up in a Polish settlement in Ontario, became friends with Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow before he became Pope John Paul II. There are pictures of the late pope with Prince, who would often arrange meetings between the pope and fellow Canadians. In her autobiography, singer Celine Dion included a 1984 photo of her with Prince and the pope at the Vatican.
Prince was ordained in 1963 and held various administrative posts in Ottawa and Toronto before being moved to the Vatican in 1991. He returned to Canada in 2006 after criminal charges were brought against him.
"He anally raped 11-year-old boys. This is graphic stuff. The guy is a monster," said Rob Talach, a lawyer for some of the victims.
In a separate case involving the Canadian church, a bishop already facing child pornography charges in Ontario has also been accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting a young boy who lived at an orphanage in eastern Canada.
The civil lawsuit filed this week in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador alleges that Raymond Lahey simulated anal intercourse and fondled the young boy between 1982 and 1985.
The lawsuit alleges the plaintiff first met Lahey in 1982 when he served as a priest at the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Lahey was charged in September with possessing and importing child pornography after border agents examined his laptop at an Ontario airport. He resigned as head of the Catholic diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia just before the pornography charges became public.
And the third in AP's anti-Ratzinger trifecta today - I wonder if it took them all these weeks to finally get this poor misguided man to be complicit in AP's Satanic scheme! The inanity of it all is mind-deadening!
AP Interview: German abuse victim
faults Pope Benedict XVI,
seeks compensation from Church
Finance JUERGEN BAETZ
Associated Press Writer
11:57 a.m. EDT, April 9, 2010
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) — A German man who says a priest sexually abused him as an altar boy is demanding an apology from Pope Benedict XVI and compensation "even if the church goes bankrupt."
Wilfried Fesselmann said then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is ultimately to blame for allowing the priest to continue in his pastoral duties.
"It is an insolence that the Catholic Church was only busy with covering-up and moving the priest around for years instead of dismissing him," Fesselmann said in an interview this week with The Associated Press.
Fesselmann claims a chaplain, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, forced him to sleep with him and practice oral sex when he was an 11-year-old boy in the western city of Essen.
Three decades later, the case is especially explosive for the Roman Catholic Church as they cast doubt on the current pope's handling of pedophile priests during his tenure as Archbishop of Munich and Freising.
After being abused, Fesselmann was afraid to tell his deeply Catholic parents what had happened. "That was inconceivable; they would have never believed me," he told the AP on Thursday in Gelsenkirchen, near Essen in the industrial Ruhr River basin.
But he told a friend who alerted his parents, who then contacted local clergy. Fesselmann's claims and three other sex abuse cases against Hullermann a few months earlier caused the Essen diocese to transfer the priest to Munich in 1980 where he was to undergo therapy — a decision approved by Ratzinger.
Hullermann was given therapy but was allowed to resume pastoral duties almost immediately. He later worked again with children and youth and in 1986 was handed a suspended sentence for molesting a boy. Following the sentence, he was again assigned to another parish.
"Why didn't Ratzinger remove him? They should have dismissed him. He was dangerous," the 41-year-old father of three said.
Ratzinger's then-top aide, Gerhard Gruber, now aged 81, has taken the lone responsibility for the decision to reassign him to a parish shortly after he started his therapy.
Ever since, however, questions persist whether such a decision would be possible without at least informing the archbishop.
"Gruber has jumped in front of the pope to protect him," Fesselmann said. He insists the archbishop was ultimately responsible.
"When top executives sign a decision, they're accountable for it. If it goes wrong, they have to quit," Fesselmann said.
He is now urging Benedict to apologize with a strongly-worded statement for the past mistakes — his own and those of his clergymen.
"Actually, a general apology by the pope is not enough for me," Fesselmann said. "What about a private audience for all victims abused by Hullermann?"
Hullermann continued to serve as a priest in Bavaria for three decades. He was removed from his duties as pastor in the spa town of Bad Toelz only last month after Fesselmann came forward and disclosed his story, encouraged by other emerging abuse cases in Germany.
The archdiocese of Munich issued a statement on March 12 confirming that Hullerman was allowed to continue working as a priest "despite allegations of sexual abuse and a sentencing. Gruber takes on the full responsibility for this."
Fesselmann now wants unspecified financial compensation of a scale similar to that in the U.S., where churches paid out an estimated $2 billion to abuse victims.
"There needs to be a compensation so that the victims at least get some money — even if the church goes bankrupt over it," he said.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 4/10/2010 2:05 AM]