It turned out that one of the reasons Kiesle was still wearing the
clerical robes was that his case had been put on a slow track by the
Vatican, specifically by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict,
who wrote in a letter that the concerns for the children had to be
balanced against the “good of the universal church.”
So, the simple recap is this: Maurine Behrend stands up to the
bishop to keep the children out of reach of the known sex offender,
while the future pope cautions “not so fast.” In any church you might
attend, who would you prefer to be in charge of Sunday School?
Seriously, it is hard to see what the downside would be to having
Pope Benedict resign. (Unlikely though it may be that Maurine would
For faithful Catholics, a papal resignation would finally do what
none of the well-meaning retroactive measures undertaken by dioceses,
including Syracuse, to rid the church of the stench from so many aging
cases of child abuse by clergy, has been able to accomplish. It would
signal accountability, repentance and a belated recognition of the
gravity of the matter. It would signal, in a way no words ever could,
that the Vatican understands the hell it has created for so many
vulnerable youth, and has taken an irrevocable action leading to
It has been painful to watch the many dodges the church has hidden
behind during the years that this scandal has gone from closely held
secret to one nauseating headline after another. One of the most
foolish subterfuges has been to point out that not only priests, but
also Boy Scout leaders, ministers of other faiths and schoolteachers
abuse children. This is not only silly—the guilt of others does not
acquittal create—but it misses the point, which is that for decades
church leaders dealt with such abuse as an internal affair, rather than
as a criminal matter. Secrecy, silent shuffling of offenders, was long
the watchword, and Benedict has been shown, in cases from California to
Bavaria, that he is a man steeped in that mentality.
Other apologists try to make the case that there have been false
accusations against priests. Bringing charges to light in a criminal
proceeding would seem the best way to expose this. Just ask Ben
Roethlisberger or Kobe Bryant.
Other highly respected Catholics have taken to countering claims of
abuse by reciting the litany of noble works of mercy and charity done
by the clergy. Shame on them—to hide the hideous and long-concealed
crimes of some behind the dedicated sacrifices of others. And hearing
claims that the church itself is the victim in this case of
persecution—enough already. No parent of an abused child should have to
listen to another syllable of such nonsense.
Benedict’s connection to the case of Father Kiesle illustrates the
mindset the church embraced when it put institutional preservation
ahead of preventing heinous acts against children. Kiesle, who
confessed to molesting “tons” (his words) of children, actually
petitioned to be defrocked. His bishop wrote to Rome asking them to
revoke the man’s holy orders. The future pope declined to put the
pervert out on the street.
This pope, who was the power behind the throne during the many year
reign of John Paul II, came to his new job with a philosophical,
religious and political goal—to put an end to what he sees as the
threat of “moral relativism.”
Weighing the threat of sexual abuse perpetrated on a child against
the needs of a 2,000-year-old institution (and deciding that the
church, which holds all the power, is the more important party), well,
that smacks of moral relativism of the first order.
In a way Benedict could best fulfill his goal by stepping down. He
promised a return to absolutes in belief and practice. . . now what
could be more absolute than a prohibition on child rape?
Opponents of a papal resignation cite the precedent that might be
set, and note that no pope in modern times has abdicated the throne of
Peter. The rarity of the event would only lend more power to the
gesture. It reminds future popes that there is accountability even for
the infallible, and justice to be found in the earthly kingdom on this
side of the grave.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the pages of the Syracuse New Times.