Michael Sean Winters is a writer for America Magazine. Although it is a Catholic Magazine, it has long been a hotbed of anti-Vatican sentiment. Generally, they don’t like the Pope. The former editor, Father Thomas Reese, was removed by the Vatican because he was just too far out there; he often threatened to be hardly Catholic at all.
But even they are willing to say the recent articles trying to paint the Pope as a child abuse abetter have gone too far.:
This, we are led to believe, is the smoking gun. Raztinger signed the letter in 1985. That is HIS signature. Case closed.
Here are the documents.
In talking to reporters, I raised the question: Why was this case in front of Ratzinger in the first place. It does not make sense. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was given jurisdiction over cases of the “graviora delicta” of sexual abuse only in 2001. Before that time, it is a bit unclear who had immediate jurisdiction in Rome, although one point – which I also made to reporters – went unmentioned then and in all the reporting about the future Pope’s role in handling sex abuse cases, namely, the local bishop has the authority to remove a priest from the clerical state.
But wait. Virtually every Pope story carried by the media said that the local bishop was trying to get someone defrocked, and the Vatican stood in his way, or Ratzinger slowed things down. But this is patent nonsense. As Winters says, the local biship can remove him from the clerical state, without needing any help from the Vatican.
This blows their stories all to hell. Their stories, therefore, mean exactly NOTHING.
Recourse to Rome is necessary only to dispense a priest from his vow of celibacy, so that he can subsequently be married in the Church. Perhaps, some of the confusion has to do with the translation from Latin that the original AP story procured from the chairman of the Classics Department at USC which translates “Hoc dicasterium” as “this court.” I do not question the Chairman of the Classics Department’s command of Latin, but a dicastery in the Vatican is not a court, but an agency or department.
So, the translations are being done by people with insufficient knowledge to do the job right.
But even so, if you were in the Vatican, you would have had a hard time telling that this was about child abuse. Remember, this case came to them only as a request to have a priest dispensed from his vow of celibacy. At first, nothing was said about child abuse. Only in later letters did the Oakland archdiocese slowly reveal what was going on.
The CDF did not then and does not now serve as a canonical court. But, then it hit me: I was asking about the dog that had not barked.
The documents exchanged between the diocesan officials in Oakland and the CDF do not mention “graviora delicta.” The case was presented as a priest seeking laicization. As well, the documents do not paint the profound ugliness of the priest’s crimes. The first document posted at the Times is a 1981 letter from a parish priest who worked with Kiesle. It says that Kiesle lacked “maturity and responsibility and spirituality” and says he only became a priest to please his over-bearing mother. The second document, also from 1981 and also from a priest who worked with Kiesle, says that Kiesle’s family was opposed to his becoming a priest and claims that Kiesle was irresponsible and had trouble relating to adults. The letter refers to “the eventual difficulty that Father Kiesle had with the law because of his relationship to young children” but there are no details.
The third document finally is explicit. In the “Votum Episcopi,” the document by which the bishop demonstrates his support for Father Kiesle’s request for laicization, Bishop John Cummins notes that Kiesle had been arrested for molesting six boys, had pleaded “nolo contendere” and received a three-year suspended sentence. Three facts jump out. First, the request for defrocking was made by Father Kiesle, not by the bishop. Second, the priest had already been removed from active ministry, so the case did not seem urgent insofar as protecting children in the future was concerned (remember, Kiesle was only asking CDF to dispense him from his vows). Third, the response from and punishment by the civil authorities were not as severe as the crime warranted. As we now know, very few people understood the nature of pedophilia, otherwise civil authorities would not have imposed a three- or five-year statute of limitations, and the penalties for what amounted to rape would have been more severe. It turns out that the emotional scars of sex abuse are worse than physical scars of physical abuse, not least because they are often unseen.
Yet the civil authorities only gave him three years of probation – no jail time at all. They certainly weren’t worried about it. Remember, this was back in the early 1980’s, when the MEDIA were telling us that psychological counseling was very effective and the only treatement that sex offenders needed.
It is the job of religion reporters to not only report on information but to provide the context for interpreting that information. The documents in the Oakland case raise certain obvious questions that the press ignores or fails to perceive – I do not know which is worse. I do not “blame” the media for the sex abuse crisis and I do blame the Vatican for doing such a horrendous job of answering the current questions and for seeing themselves as the victim. Nonetheless, I believe the press corps is guilty of shoddy reporting. The documents in the Oakland case are no “smoking gun” but they are presented as such. The feeding frenzy among the press corps has taken hold and everybody wants to be Woodward and Bernstein. Shame on them.
Remember when the media used to fight for the innocent against the whole world? Now they attack the innocent and seek to destroy reputations, All for fun.