Concern about pope’s handling (or mishandling) of clergy sex abuse scandal reaches to Walnut Creek

The Associated Press reports that back in 1985 the future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a  former priest, now 63 and living in Rossmoor, who had a record of sexually molesting children.
According to a 1985 letter bearing his signature, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said the arguments for removing Stephen Kiesle, then 38, from the priesthood were of “grave significance.” Ratzinger, who then headed the Vatican’s office involved in disciplining abusive priests, told Oakland Bishop John Cummins that he should use “as much paternal care as possible” with regard to Kiesle, the AP says. 
The future pope also said that any decision to defrock Kiesle (pictured here in 2002) must take into account “the good of the universal church.”

“Paternal care” was apparently Ratzinger’s way of telling Cummins to keep Kiesle out of trouble, AP says.
Ratzinger’s letter went out eight years after Kiesle was sentenced in 1978 to three years’ probation for pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct. Kiesle was convicted of ttying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay Area church refrectory, the AP says. When this probation ended in 1981, Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood, and the diocese submittted papers to Rome to defrock him.  That same year, the diocese recommended removing Kiesle from the priesthood.

Cummins himself asked the Vatican in a letter that Kiesle be defrocked, according to ABC7. In a letter, Cummins wrote:  “It does seem clear now, with hindsight, that quite probably Father Kiesle should never have been ordained.”

But it apparently took six years for Kiesle to leave the priesthood. In 1985,  then Cardinal Ratzinger was saying that the case needed more time. During those six years that Rome was deciding Kiesle’s future, he was allowed to return to Pinole to volunteer as a youth minister at St. Joseph Church, AP says. Cummins also wrote to Ratzinger, warning that returning Kiesle to the ministry would cause more of a scandal than stripping him of his priestly powers.

Ratzinger was more concerned about protecting the church’s reputation than protecting children, Irwin Zalkin, an attorney representing some of the victims, told the AP.

“Cardinal Ratzinger was more concerned about the avoidance of scandal than he was about protecting children,” Zalkin said in a phone interview. “That was a central theme.”

Kiesle ultimately left the priesthood in 1987–and records don’t show if Ratzinger had any role in that  decision, AP says.  Five years later, in 2002, he was arrested and charged with 13 counts of child molestation in the 1970s. All but two of those charges were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations. Kiesle pleaded no contest in 2004 to a felony charge for molesting a young girl in Truckee in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in state prison.

Kiesle was a defendant in a lawsuit filed against the Oakland diocese. Eight of Kiesle’s victims settled with the Oakland Dioceses in 2005. They were awarded between $1 million and $1.5 million each.

In the settlement, Kiesle “admitted molesting many children and bragged that he was the Pied Piper,” Lewis VanBlois, an attorney for six Kiesle victims, told the AP. ” When asked how many children he had molested over the years, [Kiesle] said ‘tons.’ ” Eight of Kiesle’s victims settled with the Oakland Dioceses in 2005. They were awarded between $1 million and $1.5 million each.

Cummins, now 82 and retired, suggested to reporters that back in 1985 Ratzinger might have been following the tone set by Pope John Paul II regarding sex abuse allegations. John Paul’s practice at the time, according to Cummins, was to slow these cases down. “You just didn’t walk out of the priesthood then,” Cummins said.

The Vatican confirmed that Ratzinger signed the 1985 letter regarding Kiesle. Two Vatican representatives tried to downplay any suggestion that then-Cardinal Ratzinger tried to cover up the case.

One told the AP that the letter was a typical form letter asking that the diocese to proceed carefully and to guard against future abuse. Another representative said that Ratzinger was asking for more careful study take place.

24 thoughts on “Concern about pope’s handling (or mishandling) of clergy sex abuse scandal reaches to Walnut Creek

  1. Eeww. I need to take a shower just from reading that.

    My feelings for the abuser and his enablers are beyond contempt.

    And someone who's an ex-priest and an ex-con can afford to retire to Rossmoor?!


  2. According to SF Gate: … in Pinole he had been living 1 1/2 blocks from 7-year-old Amber Swartz at the time she vanished in 1988.


  3. Making the poor church the victim of greedy lawyers is really the pot calling the kettle black.

    It is exactly for power and money why the greedy church for decades and probably centuries has covered up the sexual abuse done by clergy members.

    It is not becoming to the church to paint itself as a victim now since they couldn't care less for the real victims in order to protect their power and wealth.


  4. Poor church? The church has massive amounts of resources and has killed millions of people inside an outside it's congregations since it's inception.

    Disgusting behavior by a necessary franchise. Such arrogance.


  5. One of the Vatican representatives called it ” a typical form letter.” Much more convenient for the mass mailings they seem to have routinely made.


  6. Thud why worry? — How about because through their cover-up the church allowed sexual abuse of children go on for years and years. What more do you need?


  7. Thud, fair enough question: why worry?

    The safety of children. An organization was shown to have problems protecting the children in it's care. When those problems were brought to the organization's attention, their response was to deny and cover up the problem and to protect known criminals while doing nothing to prevent it from happening again.

    I truly don't understand how people who say they care about the church can look at this and be happy with it. But perhaps you can understand why people who don't really care about the church as an organization can still care about the children it ministers to.


  8. Since Martin Luther, the 'church' has been proven to have corrupt elements in its hierarchy down to its membership. However the rapes, molestations, and abuse of its children has probably been going on since Peter was pope. And the organization has probably been covering up this kind of criminal behavior ever since. Why isn't the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in America being investigated and charged under the RICO Act? This is organized crime. The corrupt and evil leadership from the vatican to the diocese has been proven that it hides, protects, and even transfers indicted priests overseas to avoid prosecution. These pedophiles and their vestment wearing protectors need to be brought to criminal justice and quickly taken out of society permanently!


  9. Readers may be interested in a message thread on the yourrossmoor chatboard, beginning at .

    Various residents discuss (some a little heatedly) what role, if any, Rossmoor government should take in alerting residents to the presence of sex offenders.

    They have a right to be left alone.

    But so do difficult to supervise small children visiting our densely populated community.

    Issues of disclosure, privacy, the right to know, and public welfare are in conflict, and there’s no perfect solution.

    Within our gates, Rossmoor’s recently paroled defrocked priest in the national news has precipitated something akin to a high school civics class exercise.


  10. The guy is a pedophile, ie, he likes young-uns. The Rossmoor community needn't worry…….continue the fight to warm up the pools.


  11. Does Kiesle have a retirement from a firm or agency he used to work for? I doubt it. I can only surmise that the Church is paying him a retirement.

    They balk at paying people who were molested priests, and they don't hesitate to pay the molesters.

    I can't articulate my disgust — it just goes too deep. Just remember that when you contribute to the church, when you put your check into your envelope, you're supporting child molesters.


  12. As far as I am aware we Catholics are rather fond of our children too. If one looks at many walks of life such as education one will find numerous examples of predators…should we close down education? shun all teachers?or recognise the good works of the many? what arrant nonsense spouted here, a place once full of local information but now being populated by some rather angry individuals.


  13. Thud — I respectfully have to disagree with you. I can only speak for myself, but certainly I do not blame the Roman Catholic Church or its leadership for the fact that, that at least some sexual abuse of children was committed by its clergy.

    As you very rightfully point out predators can be found in many walks of life.

    The problem with the church leadership as it becomes clear now is not that these crimes happened, at least not in the beginning. But through its policy of not rooting out the problem and its choice to cover up, it allowed the crimes to continue.

    So to answer your question, if there was sexual abuse in a school and it turns out the leadership in that school was aware of the problem but refused to do anything about this? Yes, we should hold the leadership accountable for it.

    To Anon 11:11 I do however think that you jump to conclusions. We simply don’t know how this priest is able to afford retirement in Rossmoor. Maybe he is from a wealthy family? So far, I certainly have not seen any evidence that he gets any financial support from the Church.


  14. 11:22,

    I'll bet you $5 that the Church is paying him some sort of retirement, is or did subsidize his home (purchase or rental). Yes, it's speculative, but I'm sure I'm right.


  15. Thud,

    Child molesters seek occupations and environments in which they'll be exposed to children. That's a given. However, the Church's failure to protect children by allowing child molester priests to continue serving trusting communities, hiding these priests offenses, and hiding behind their cloak of secrecy is, in my opinion as bad or worse than the molesters themselves.

    The Church DELIBERATELY failed the children and the communities that entrusted their children to the Church.

    The Pope should not only be removed from his position, but he should be imprisoned.

    He and his ilk are beyond reprehensible.


  16. The Pope's personal clergyman compared likened the criticism of the Church and the vast child sex abuse scandal and coverups to the Holocaust.

    This Pope reinstated the sale of plenary indulgences.

    These people have got to go.


  17. I am considered a good Catholic and I agree. Priests or no priests, right is right and wrong is wrong. I feel it is my good Catholic duty to speak up. I cannot and will not look the other way. Every profession has pedophiles, as they like to hide out and appear normal. Some even feel so guilty about what they do, that they live an outward life of good deeds. Yes, for some it is insincere and done to cover up, but for most they do good deeds because the feel impelled to make up for their sins. They have two sides to who they are, which makes it so hard to believe an accusation when one knows only the good side/ the public side of a priest who has a dark side. None the less, good deeds do not undo criminal behavior. If we start prosecuting these criminals in the church, fewer will view the priesthood as a safe place to hide out. Priesthood does not create pedophiles, but pedophiles are attracted to the priesthood for its obvious assistance in committing such crimes. The crime is worse as it is done by one who is the face of God. Their crime is not only molestation of a child's body: It is Soul Murder.

    Dakota Soul


  18. Yes, just how did SK get the funds to retire to a place that is in one of the most attractive and gracious communities in the country?

    Also, for those not aware of it, housing within Rossmoor ranges from the modest to the affluent. It will be of the utmost interest to find out what living standards Kiesle had, by way of housing, whilst at Rossmoor.

    It would also be interesting to find out how his housing at Rossmoor compares with the kind of housing assigned to retired nuns, sisters, priests and brothers who loyally and honorably served the faithful, did only good and never did harm.

    Medical benefits, too. What kind of health coverage did Kiesel have? Who paid for that, eh?

    He aint living in an SRO in the skid row section of a major city–he's been out there in an affluent and very trustful community.

    Given its size, it would be difficult to supervise all the youngsters who come, trustfully to visit relatives at Rossmoor.

    Two, unless I am misinformed Rossmoor has facilities that can be rented or booked for large celebrations–weddings, family re-unions, etc.

    How would people know to keep an eye on their youngsters if they attend a party or celebration at Rossmoor and have no idea who has been living there?

    Finally, there may well be persons living at Rossmoor who have survived clergy abuse. How are they feeling, discovering who has been living amongst them?

    All this is going to be very hard for the Rossmoor community and its governing/administrative body.

    Pray for the dead and fight like hell to protect and advocate for the living.


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