Former Bishop sends letter to defrock Stephen Kiesle

April 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A letter proves Pope Benedict XVI resisted defrocking a Bay Area priest who was a known pedophile. That letter came in response to Oakland's bishop who asked that the priest be let go.

Former Bishop John Cummins spent four years trying to get Rome to defrock this priest, but on Friday night, Cummins defended Pope Benedict's actions pointing out it was a different time.

"I'm somewhat protective of what we did obviously, but I am also protective of what Rome did. They were working in an entirely different world," said Cummins.

The time was 1981. Stephen Kiesle had been convicted of tying up two boys and molesting them in a California church rectory. Kiesle's bishop, John Cummins, asked the Vatican in a letter that Kiesle be defrocked. Cummins wrote: "It does seem clear now, with hindsight, that quite probably Father Kiesle should never have been ordained."

Four years later, then Cardinal Ratzinger said the case needed more time and that "?it [was] necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church."

"If they would just take care of the victims and tell the truth, that would be the good for the Universal Church," said Wayne Presley, a victim of abuse.

This new revelation doesn't surprise victims of priests. Local members of the group SNAP -- or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- say this is more evidence of a bigger problem.

"If this is their attitude toward what's going on, how can they be protecting kids? This is just a cover up, plain and simple," said Presley.

"You'd have to appreciate the Pope's position and his judgment that people should not enter the priesthood easily or shouldn't leave easily," said Cummins.

Former Bishop Cummins says Pope Benedict didn't block the defrocking of Kiesle, he just wanted more time to look at a few more issues which he says wasn't surprising at the time.

Kiesle now lives in a gated community in Rossmoor and ABC7 was not able to reach him for comment. He was defrocked in 1987 and did end up serving prison time in 2004 for the 1995 molestation of a young girl at his Truckee vacation home.

An attorney for some of his victims says this letter is a reminder that more work needs to be done.

"I do think there is an institutional problem and it is not resolved and we do need to keep the pressure on to make sure the old ways don't come back again," said the victims' attorney Rich Simons.

Members of SNAP say they hope this won't keep victims from coming forward and calling police with their stories. Eight of Kiesle's victims settled with the Oakland Dioceses in 2005. They were awarded between $1 million and $1.5 million each.


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