NPR logo Pope Linked To Decisions In Abuse Cases

Pope Linked To Decisions In Abuse Cases

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate mass in Malta on April 18. The Pope met with victims of sexual abuse by priests while he was in Malta. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate mass in Malta on April 18. The Pope met with victims of sexual abuse by priests while he was in Malta.

Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

If the controversy over child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church has more resonance these days, it's because some charges touch on cases that involved Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI.

Here are some key cases that are part of the controversy:

The Oakland Case

In 1981, the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking to defrock a 38-year-old priest named Stephen Kiesle. Three years earlier, Kiesle had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct with two young boys. He was sentenced to three years' probation.

The Congregation is the Vatican's main watchdog on issues of church doctrine and on investigation of serious crimes within the church. Oakland Bishop John Cummins wrote to the newly appointed head of the office, Cardinal Ratzinger, to ask that Kiesle be removed from the priesthood.

Although the bishop followed up periodically, warning that the church could face scandal if Kiesle remained a priest, the Vatican did nothing for four years. During at least part of that time, Kiesle volunteered as a youth minister at a California church.

In 1985, Ratzinger wrote to the bishop saying that the removal of a priest required very careful review and would take more time. Writing in Latin, the future pope told Cummins that any decision regarding 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…."

It was two more years before Kiesle was finally defrocked. In 2004, he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of molesting a young girl in 1995. He was sentenced to six years in prison for the crime.

The Tucson Case

In 1990, members of a church tribunal in Tucson, Ariz., found that the Rev. Michael Teta had been abusing boys at the diocese since 1978. Some cases took place in a confessional, behavior that the tribunal termed as "almost satanic."

Cardinal Ratzinger officially took over the case, but it took another 12 years before Teta was formally removed from the priesthood.

A Vatican spokesman has said Teta was actually ordered defrocked in 1997, but he appealed the removal. Because the church was in the process of changing its rules on appeals, the spokesman said, the appeal was placed on hold for several more years. Teta wasn't officially removed from the priesthood until 2004.

Similar delays occurred in the case of a second Tucson priest accused of sexual abuse, Monseignor Robert Trupia.

The Maciel Case

As early as 1956, the Vatican was investigating a charismatic Mexican-born priest named Marcial Maciel Degollado on charges of drug use and sexual abuse of boys and seminarians in his care.

Maciel, the founder of the Catholic order The Legion of Christ, was suspended for three years, but reinstated in 1959. He went on to become one of the church's most prolific fundraisers, establishing schools, universities and charitable institutions.

But he was also the target of repeated accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct.

Investigative reporter Jason Berry, who has written extensively about Maciel, says a former Legion priest named Juan Vaca tried three times between 1976 and 1989 to get the Vatican to investigate detailed allegations against Maciel. He was unsuccessful.

In 1997, Maciel was again charged with molesting boys and young men but, again, the investigation was quashed. Berry says Maciel funneled thousands of dollars in cash donations to top church officials who were close to Pope John Paul, helping to assure their support.

After Ratzinger became pope in 2005, the investigation was reopened, and Maciel was found guilty. Pope Benedict did not remove him from the priesthood, but he did order Maciel to stop his active ministry and adopt a "life of prayer and penitence."

The Munich Case

The most recent case to come to light began when Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich and Freising in Germany, from 1977 to 1982.

A priest, identified in German records as "Father H," was accused of molesting boys. In January of 1980, the archbishop approved the transfer of the priest to Munich so that he could undergo therapy.

In September of 1982, after Cardinal Ratzinger had been promoted to a new job at the Vatican, Father H was transferred to a nearby German town where he did pastoral work until he was once again accused of sexual abuse. In 1985 he was relieved of his duties in the church. The following year he was convicted in criminal court and given an 18-month suspended sentence.

Despite his record, Father H was moved to another parish, where he spent more than 20 years, first as a priest and later as a parish administrator. That ended in 2008, when he was once again removed from his duties and forbidden to work with young people.

Although records show that Ratzinger approved H's 1980 transfer to therapy, a subordinate took responsibility for allowing H to return to pastoral work. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, says the statement by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising shows the "nonresponsibility" of the pope.