Letter: Future Pope Refused Plea To Defrock Priest In a recently discovered 1985 letter, the future Pope Benedict declined to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually abusing children. The letter, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, cited concerns about "the good of the universal church" in refusing a request for Father Stephen Kiesle's removal. Host Michele Norris speaks with NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty about the letter.
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Letter: Future Pope Refused Plea To Defrock Priest

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Letter: Future Pope Refused Plea To Defrock Priest

Letter: Future Pope Refused Plea To Defrock Priest

Letter: Future Pope Refused Plea To Defrock Priest

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125788683/125788659" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In a recently discovered 1985 letter, the future Pope Benedict declined to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually abusing children. The letter, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, cited concerns about "the good of the universal church" in refusing a request for Father Stephen Kiesle's removal. Host Michele Norris speaks with NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty about the letter.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Barbara, this letter was unearthed in the case of a priest name Stephen Kiesle. Can you give us a little bit more background here?

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Now, according to the letters I've seen, in 1981, Kiesle asked to be laicized. And what that means he asked voluntarily leave the priesthood. And so the Bishop of Oakland, John Cummins, sent Kiesle's file to Rome. It went to Cardinal Ratzinger's office, which was in charge of defrocking priests. And the bishop asked that Father Kiesle be removed from the priesthood.

NORRIS: And so, when the file went to Rome, what was the official response?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And, you know, you can almost hear the bishop getting increasingly agitated in these letters. In one letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, Cummins says, quote, "It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted. And that, as a matter fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to active ministry."

NORRIS: But eventually Cardinal Ratzinger did write a response.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And the diocesan officials appeared pretty upset about the delay. In one internal memorandum I saw, an official says that he believes, quote, "They are going to sit on it until Steve gets a bit older. My own reading," this official says, "is that this is unfortunate."

NORRIS: Barbara, how long before Stephen Kiesle was actually defrocked?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: He wasn't defrocked until 1987, six years after the initial request. And the story doesn't end there. Kiesle was allowed to serve as a youth minister in another church. The church staff was furious about this. They kept saying, you know, why should a molester be allowed to be around children, and finally he was removed altogether.

NORRIS: Just a little bit of time here. Has the Vatican had an official response?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, so far they've acknowledged that that is Ratzinger's signature on the document. But his spokesman says the letter showed no attempt at a cover up. Instead he says the letter, quote, "made clear the need to study the case with more attention, taking into account the good of all involved."

NORRIS: That's NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

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