10 Apr 2010

Pope facing new allegations over paedophile letter

6:35 pm on 10 April 2010

The Pope is facing new allegations that he was responsible for delaying action by the Catholic Church against a paedophile priest. It's the first time he has been accused so directly.

The allegations emanate from a 1985 letter obtained by the Associated Press news agency that resists appeals for the dismissal of a priest in California who had sexually abused children.

It was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 - in his capacity as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases.

In the letter, Cardinal Ratzinger said the "good of the universal Church" needed to be considered in any defrocking.

Letter 'must be considered in context'

The BBC reports that the Vatican has defended the Pope, saying he was exercising due caution before sacking the priest, Stephen Kiesle, a known child molester.

The Vatican says the letter must be considered in its true context of a lengthy exchange of correspondence between California and Rome about the issue.

The Pope's critics claim that he stalled and left unanswered for years letters concerning alleged cases of sexual abuse by priests.

Bishops under pressure over Rome's inaction

American bishops are coming under increasing pressure from their flocks to explain why the Church in Rome did not take more robust action or took no action at all, so they are releasing confidential documents that put the future Pope's lack of action in a bad light.

Kiesle was sentenced to three years of probation in 1978 for lewd conduct with two young boys in San Francisco but was not defrocked till 1987.

In 2004 he was sentenced to six years in prison after admitting molesting a young girl in 1995. Now 63, he is on the registered sex offenders list in California.