Apr 10, 2010

The Pied Piper of the Oakland Diocese

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

One of the darkest fairy tales of childhood memory, the Pied Piper tells of a flamboyantly dressed stranger who lured the children of Hamelin to their deaths. That the now defrocked Rev. Stephen Kiesle self-defined as a mythical mass murderer of children is telling.

"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.'"

The picture of Kiesle that emerges from numerous news reports is of an unrepentant sociopath who thought of children as an exploitable commodity. The handling of his case by the Vatican is the latest embarrassment for Pope Benedict. Like so many of these cases, it languished for years, and involved perfunctory communication, directives to think of the church's reputation, and a misplaced file. That then Cardinal Ratzinger's signature appears on some of that perfunctory communication opens new questions about his involvement in foot dragging by the Vatican that left countless children at risk.

In the letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of "grave significance" but adds that such actions required very careful review and more time. 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 of the petitioner." Kiesle was 38 at the time.

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.

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 might 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, the Rev. George Mockel wrote in a memo to the Oakland bishop.

Worse, Ratzinger's letter calling for time and consideration was sent in 1985, nearly 4 and a half years after the defrocking request was filed in 1981. And what was there to consider? Kiesle had already been convicted of lewd conduct and had, himself, asked to be laicized. The details of his case make no one look good, including prosecutors who clearly plead him down to that lesser charge and, later, expunged his record. The crime itself was horrifying.

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.

So the known facts were that a priest had terrorized and molested 2 children and still it took the Vatican 6 years and repeated badgering to decide to defrock him?! And the church apparently failed to keep him away from children in that time.

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 been associate pastor from 1972-75.

Since being defrocked Kiesle, unsurprisingly, has proved himself to be a serial predator. Following further convictions and jail time, he is currently living in a senior community, monitored with an ankle bracelet.

The Associated Press has put together a handy timeline of events pertaining to the Kiesle case.

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