It’s official: The Pope intervened to keep a convicted child molester in the Church

pope benedictThere’s no debate any more. A 1985 letter signed by the eventual Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, told Oakland Diocese officials that, though he was aware Rev. Stephen Kiesle was a child molester, the Church would still not de-frock him. “It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time,” the Cardinal wrote. [see here and here]

What had Kiesle done? He had tied up and molested two boys in a church rectory back in 1978. But unlike many other sexual assault cases involving priests, Kiesle had been publicly caught and convicted. He pled guilty to the charges and served three years of probation (a shockingly light sentence by today’s standards). Certainly no one could say it was for anything like an unfortunate misunderstanding or accident or indiscretion. Legally speaking, he was a man who tied up and molested children, but he somehow remained a Catholic priest.

Not that the legal goings-on made any difference to the Church. More shocking were the Church’s deaf and stonewalling responses. Having taken no serious initial actions against a man guilty of a hideous crime on church grounds, they were finally asked to make a decision on Kiesle when Kiesle himself (!) asked to be removed after his probation ended, three years later. The Vatican still did nothing.

After at least three more requests from California Church officials to rule on Kiesle, only in 1985 — at least six years after the molestation — did the Vatican respond through its powerful morals official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. [see here]

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 favour 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


When you look at who the man Kiesle was, how the Oakland Diocese asked the Vatican to rule on him over and over again and how the Vatican responded, especially with respect to Ratzinger, the official guardian of its behavior, you see this is a miserable tragedy.

Stephen Kiesle in 2003

Stephen Kiesle in 2003

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 . .

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.”


They were absolutely right. It’s sad, however, that the Diocese and Cummins couldn’t have used any of that better judgment to intervene directly in the affairs of Kiesle. It’s not like they weren’t aware of the horrific nature of his crimes. With respect to their own responsibilities, they failed tragically and spectacularly all on their own:

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 on Feb. 13, 1987, though the documents do not indicate how or why. They also don’t say 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.

Stephen Kiesle in 2002

Stephen Kiesle in 2002

Kiesle, who married after leaving the priesthood, 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.


As if to provide an object lesson that they were immoral, complicit and reckless, The Vatican haven’t changed their attitudes one bit. They continue to provide total reflexive cover for the Pope and to spin any and whatever tragic decisions they can, perhaps praying the sheltered pedophilia atrocity won’t be completely revealed to the world:

[Vatican lawyer Jeffrey] Lena says there were no known cases of abuse by Kiesle between 1981, when his diocese first recommended he be laicized, and 1987 when he was removed from the priesthood.


How long do you think that excuse will survive?

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.”‘

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