The good of the Universal Church

First ordained in 1972, it was six years later, in 1978, that then-31-year-old priest Stephen Kiesle was first arrested after tying up and molesting two boys in a San Francisco church rectory. In 1981, at which point his probation came to an end, he, with the help of Bishop John Cummins, requested to leave the ministry as soon as possible. It was another 6 years – 9 long years after his conviction – before Kiesle was successfully defrocked. The following letter was sent from the Vatican to Cummins in 1985, by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger; in it, the future Pope explains that Kiesle’s case requires longer deliberation and that “the good of the Universal Church” must be considered when coming to such a decision.

Transcript, and translated transcript courtesy of Professor Thomas Habinek, follow.



Die 6 Novembris, 1985

Excellentissime Domine,

Acceptis Tuis litteris diei 13 septembris h.a. (hujus anni) circa causam dispensationis ab omnibus oneribus sacerdotalibus quae attinet ad Rev. Stephanum MILLER KIESLE, istius dioecesis, officii mei est Tecum communicare quae sequuntur.

Hoc Dicasterium, etsi gravis momenti aestimet argumenta adducta pro dispensatione in casu postulata, attamen necessarium censet considerare una cum oratoria etiam Ecclesiae Universalis bonum, et ideo parvi facere nequit detrimenta, quae dispensationis concessio in christifidelium communitate provocare potest, attenta iuvenili praesertim oratoria aetate.

Oportet proinde hanc Congregationem subjicere huiuscemodi casus accuratiori, quod longius temporis spatium necessario requiret.

Interim Excellentia Tua ne omittat oratorem paterna qua pollet cura sequi, eidem insuper apte patefaciendo rationem agendi huius Dicasterii, quod procedere solet habito prae oculis praeprimis bono communi.

Hanc occasionem nactus, impensos aestimationis meae sensus Tibi obtestor, permanens

Excellentiae Tuae Rev.mae


Translated Transcript


6th November, 1985

Most Excellent Bishop,

Having received your letter of September 13 of this year, regarding the matter of the removal from all priestly burdens pertaining to Rev Stephen MILLER KIESLE in your diocese, it is my duty to share with you the following.

This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.

It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time.

In the meantime your Excellency must not fail to provide the petitioner with as much paternal care as possible and in addition to explain to same the rationale of this court, which is accustomed to proceed keeping the common good especially before its eyes.

Let me take this occasion to convey sentiments of the highest regard always to you.

Your most Reverend Excellency