Further to my original report last night, I came across a new revelation concerning this claim by the Associated Press:
While papers obtained by the AP include only one letter with Ratzinger’s signature, correspondence and internal memos from the diocese refer to a letter dated Nov. 17, 1981, from the then-cardinal to the bishop. Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a week later.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was only appointed to head the CDF on November 25, 1981. Before that, he was the Archbishop of Munich. How is it possible that, according to the Associated Press, Cardinal Ratzinger was fully immersed in this case, and writing letters to some obscure California bishop, one week before he was installed as Prefect of the CDF? There is some major contradiction here that needs to be cleared up.
Sure enough. Another news source has confirmed my suspicion above that indeed it was not Cardinal Ratzinger who received the Cummins’s letter on November 17, 1981 but another Cardinal altogether. In fact, Ratzinger did not actually take office until February 1982 (emphasis mine):
Neither the AP nor the NYT article mentions the fact that the first letters sent by Fr. Kiesle’s pastor (April 25, 1981) and Bishop Cummins (May 8, 1981) were addressed not to Cardinal Ratzinger but to Franjo Cardinal Seper, Ratzinger’s predecessor as Prefect of the CDF. (Two of the internal memos from the Oakland diocese say that Ratzinger wrote the November 17, 1981 letter, but this is obviously incorrect, and must be due to a failure of memory on the part of the bishop.) The letter has Seper’s signature on it.) Ratzinger did not take office until February 1982. A reply came from Cardinal Seper on November 17, 1981. He requested more information, among other things asking the bishop “not to neglect to send together with the records your votum (vow, solemn statement) on not fearing scandal.” It is obvious from the way that this is put that this is a declaration that the bishop was required to make as part of canon law, and – note carefully – would be required for ALL requests for laicization. In it, the bishop declares that releasing this priest from his ministry and vow of celibacy would not create scandal. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that this particular case involved sexual abuse of a minor. It doesn’t necessarily mean that either Seper or Ratzinger feared scandal because such abuse was involved. Of course, neither the AP nor the New York Times thought to make this clear, probably because of a complete lack of understanding of canon law. Bishop Cummins forwarded the information, and on February 1, 1982, wrote to the new Prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger with yet more details. There was no reply from Ratzinger’s office. The bishop wrote again on September 24, 1982, and received a reply on October 21 saying that no further information could be given at that time. Now (though neither the Times nor the AP mentions this) there is a three-year gap with no communications from the diocese of Oakland to the CDF; on September 13, 1985, Bishop Cummins again writes to Ratzinger (and mentions that his last communication was in September 1982). This time he got a more detailed reply. The fact that he received a reply may be due to the fact that unlike the previous times he actually forwarded it to the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. to be put in his diplomatic pouch. These letters would be more likely to be considered than the general flood of mail in the offices of the CDF. Here is my translation of Ratzinger’s reply – I had just about finished when I learned that the New York Times had provided one. However, I think mine is better; at least more idiomatic.
November 6, 1985
For the Doctrine of the Faith
Prot. No. 469/81a
Most Excellent Lord,
Having received your letter of September 13 of this year, about the case of the dispensation from all sacerdotal obligations which concerns Rev. Steven Miller KIESLE, of your diocese, it is my duty to communicate to you as follows. Although this Dicastery considers the reason cited for dispensation in the case being asked about to be of grave importance, it nevertheless judges it necessary to consider along with the good of the petitioner, the good of the Universal Church, and therefore it is unable to make light of the detriment that the granting of the dispensation may cause to the Christian community, attentive especially to the youth of the petitioner. It is fitting therefore, for this Congregation to subject this kind of case to a more careful examination, which necessarily requires a longer period of time. In the meantime, may Your Excellency not fail to attend to the petitioner as much as possible with paternal care, and in addition explaining to him the reason for acting of this Dicastery, which is habitually accustomed to proceed with an eye first of all to the common good. Having met with this fortuitous occasion, I attest to you my great esteem, remaining
Your Rev. Excellency’s most devoted(?) [add.mus]
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The most Excellent and Reverent Lord
John S. Cummins
Ordinary of Oakland