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The Pope and the priest abuse scandal: What it means

April 9, 2010 |  6:33 pm

When he was the church’s chief enforcer of doctrine 25 years ago, Pope Benedict XVI declined to immediately defrock a California priest who admitted to child sexual abuse, saying he needed more time to consider the impact of the case on “the good of the Universal Church,” according to a letter released Friday.

The 1985 letter to Bishop John Cummins of Oakland is the latest document to shed light on Benedict’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis in his earlier career, when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and headed the Vatican office that ultimately assumed full responsibility for such cases.

In it, he acknowledges the “grave significance” of the charges against the priest, Stephen Kiesle, who had pleaded no contest to charges of molesting two boys in 1978. But Ratzinger said he needed more time and information, in part because of the “detriment that [defrocking] can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful.”

It would be another two years before the Vatican relented to the request, which apparently came on Kiesle’s initiative.

In the video above, Times Relgion Writer Mitchell Landsberg looks at the letter and its implications.