Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli published a column this week discussing the Associated Press' manipulation of a letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger which supposedly “proved” he covered up abuse by a California priest. Tornielli remarked that the media has a new bias: “The-Pope-Must-Be-Guilty.”
The AP article, published last Friday, was based on a letter signed in 1985 by then-Cardinal Ratzinger when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He was responding to a request by Bishop John Cummins of the Diocese of Oakland, California to remove priestly duties from Fr. Stephen Kiesle. At the time, Fr. Kiesle was accused of molesting two children in 1978.
The AP charged that then-Cardinal Ratzinger “resisted pleas to de-frock the priest.” In the letter, the Holy Father is quoted as saying that the case needed “careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time.”
Tornielli wrote: “As has been the case in recent days, the letter was presented as a case of ‘covering-up’ a pedophile priest on the part of the future Pope.”
However, Tornielli continued, a greater scrutiny of the context shows that at the time the Ratzinger-led CDF “did not have jurisdiction over cases of pedophilia and (Cardinal Ratzinger's) letter addresses the issue of laicization and not his trial.” He adds that “Ratzinger asked for more study of the case,” and "two years later, laicization was granted; and there was no cover-up of the guilty party.”
“What is most noteworthy is not that fact that these letters (Ratzinger must have signed many of them during his 23 years at the head of the former Holy Office) are published,” but that they are reprinted “again and again without any verification of context or procedures,” without “looking into the circumstances that would allow whoever is reading them to have a clue.” This is what a “journalist is supposed to do.”
“I myself have made many mistakes in my profession throughout the years, and I don’t take any pleasure in lecturing or giving advice to others,” Tornielli said. “But as a reader, I think we are dealing with a pre-established bias: The-Pope-must-be-guilty (perhaps for this reason they are trying to bring him to court) and it is through this lens that they are seeking out testimony and documents.”
Pope Benedict XVI has been leading the effort to address the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, he added, and it is “obvious” that the recent reports are an attempt to “discredit the moral authority of the Church and the Pope and weaken his message.”
“By this I am not saying we should minimize the scandals that we have all seen,” he added.
In an article for the Italian daily, Il Giornale, Tornielli also pointed out that American attorney Jeff Anderson was behind the AP story. Anderson had previously made known his intention to continue filing lawsuits against the Church and that he has made millions from his efforts thus far.
Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi has not commented on the specifics of the letter, but noted on Friday that "The press office doesn't believe it is necessary to respond to every single document taken out of context regarding particular legal situations.”