Michael Sean Winters continues to call down shame on the secular press for its coverage of the latest phase of the sexual-abuse crisis. Winters doesn’t see why anyone should be too troubled by how the CDF handled the case of Stephen Kiesle: “This, we are led to believe, is the smoking gun. Raztinger signed the letter in 1985. That is HIS signature. Case closed.”
In 1978 Kiesle was convicted of molesting two boys and was sentenced to three years’ probation. (Later he was convicted of molesting a girl.) As Winters points out, the priest sought to be released from celibacy and returned to the lay state. The bishop of Oakland and others who knew Kiesle sent letters to Rome–along with Kiesle’s file–in support of the request. (Read the documents here.) Winters writes:
The first document posted at the Times is a 1981 letter from a parish priest who worked with Kiesle. It says that Kiesle lacked “maturity and responsibility and spirituality” and says he only became a priest to please his over-bearing mother.
That’s not all it says. Read it for yourself: Fr. Dabovich writes that Kiesle worked mostly with teenagers and children in the parish CCD program. “They liked him and cooperated with him. Yet he acted as one of them: played ball with them; took them to outings and shows and spent time in their homes.” He continues: “I was somewhat concerned, but never received any unfavorable comments. Only some years after he left this parish did I learn of some improprieties that were going on while he was here.” An experienced Vatican official would know how to read between those lines.
The second document, also from 1981 and also from a priest who worked with Kiesle, says that Kiesle’s family was opposed to his becoming a priest and claims that Kiesle was irresponsible and had trouble relating to adults. The letter refers to “the eventual difficulty that Father Kiesle had with the law because of his relationship to young children” but there are no details.
So what? The letter writer, Fr. George Crespin, then chancellor of the diocese, may have felt squeamish about detailing Kiesle’s crimes. He may have wanted to stick to the protocol of understatement when communicating with Rome. Note, too, that before euphemistically mentioning that Kiesle ran into trouble with the law because of his “relationship to young children,” Crespin also notes that Kiesle showed interest in “ministering” to no one else but young people. Does Winters expect us to believe that CDF officials couldn’t connect those dots?
What’s more, in the same letter Crespin says that “a sufficient description of the nature of the difficulties” was included in the Acta, which had already been sent to Rome. Later in the post Winters–still ignoring the unpublished Acta we know was sent to the CDF–repeats the claim that Ratzinger was never informed of the full extent of Kiesle’s crimes. That assumption is unsupported by the record.