VATICAN CITY -- Vatican officials have rebutted allegations that the future Pope Benedict XVI stalled on a priestly sex abuse case in 1985, and said critics have misunderstood the fundamental church procedures in use at the time.
The Associated Press reported that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger resisted pleas to defrock Father Stephen Kiesle, a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children. It cited a letter from Cardinal Ratzinger, who was head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, advising further study of the case for "the good of the universal church."
Vatican officials pointed out that Cardinal Ratzinger was responding to the priest's own request for dispensation from the vow of celibacy, and at the time had no authority to impose dismissal from the priesthood as a penalty for sex abuse.
Jeffrey Lena, a California lawyer for the Vatican, said the AP article reflected a "rush to judgment" and presumed -- incorrectly -- that Cardinal Ratzinger's office had control over clerical sex abuse cases.