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Pope hit by new church abuse claims

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 09 April 2010

The Associated Press (AP) says it has obtained new church files which are said to claim that before becoming Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had resisted defrocking a San Francisco Bay priest who abused children.

Pope's letter from 1985 (AP)

AP said the files contain a letter, said to have been written in 1985 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, citing concerns about the effect removing the priest would have on "the good faith of the universal church".

The Vatican has said that Benedict XVI played no role in blocking the removal of paedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church's watchdog office.

AP said the letter is typed in Latin and signed by Ratzinger as part of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland in California and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Reverend Stephen Kiesle.

During the first six years of Ratzinger's term in the Vatican office in the early 1990s, there were calls for Kiesle's removal. He was not removed until seven years after the allegations.

AP reported that in the letter, Ratzinger wrote that the arguments for removing Kiesle were of "grave significance" but added that such actions required careful review.

It also said he advised the bishop to provide Kiesle with "as much paternal care as possible" while awaiting the decision.

Ratzinger is reported to have written the decision to defrock Kiesle had to take into account the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age."

The Vatican would not comment today, but AP said a spokesman confirmed the Pope's signature.

However it quoted Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi as saying it was "not strange that there are single documents which have Cardinal Ratzinger's signature".

Irwin Zalkin, lawyer for Kiesle's Victims said: "The pattern and practice of Cardinal Ratzinger was to delay the process, because there was a concern that if all of the sudden you're laicising numbers of priests, somebody is going to start asking questions: 'What's going on? Why is this happening? Why are we losing these priests? What is the issue?'

"And so it would be in their best interest for this process to drag on, for there to be a sort of a serial way of letting these guys go over time, that it wouldn't be as apparent that something was wrong."

Irwin Zalkin said: "Their biggest concern was how to protect the Universal Church from any scandal. 

"Scandal was considered a sin and if evidence or information were to get out and become public about the depth and the breath and the insidious nature of the problem of priests and other religious committing these crimes, it would for sure provoke scandal."

Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanour charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory.

Kiesle was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 after admitting molesting a young girl in 1995.

Kiesle is now 63 and is on the registered offenders list in California.

Some in the diocese find it difficult to come to terms with Keisle's crimes. Maurine Behrend, worked with the Youth Ministry with Kiesle at St Joseph Church.

She said: "I had read obviously about the stuff going on in Europe at the moment and there's a way of being ignorant that isn't your fault and there's a way of being ignorant that is your fault and then there is denial. And I think most bishops and priests know that."

Today Pope Benedict XVI said he would meet more victims of abuse at the hands of priests. The Vatican told all dioceses to co-operate in full with investigating officers over child abuse claims.

These latest claims follow similar documents released last week, which revealed instances of the Vatican stalling in cases involving two Arizona clergy.

The Vatican has called the accusations "absolutely groundless" and said the facts were being misrepresented.

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