New story trying to implicate Pope Benedict is 'misleading,' says the Vatican

FrLombardi Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office

Vatican Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, has issued a statement regarding a story released on Holy Saturday by the Associated Press as “breaking news,” implying that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, failed to act promptly in the case of Rev. Michael Teta of the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.

The Associated Press wrote that documents it reviewed show “members of a church tribunal found that the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson (sic), Ariz., had molested children and deemed his behavior — including allegations that he abused boys in a confessional — almost ‘satanic.’ The tribunal referred his case to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope in 2005. But it took 12 years from the time Ratzinger assumed control of the case in a signed letter until Teta was formally removed from ministry, a step only the Vatican can take.”

“As abuse cases with the pontiff's fingerprints mushroom, Teta's case and that of another Arizona priest cast further doubt on the church's insistence that the future pope played no role in shielding pedophiles,” the AP reported, without confirming the information with the Vatican press office.

In his response to the AP and a similar story published in the Arizona Daily Star, Fr. Lombardi said that “much of the reporting has been misleading;” and explained that “the Diocese of Tucson contacted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the case, because it regarded the canonical crime of solicitation in the confessional.”

In fact, at that time, it was the Congregation for the Clergy, not Doctrine of the Faith, which was responsible for handling sex abuse cases involving priests, unless a sacramental violation – like soliciting during Confession – was involved.

It was only in 2001, in the wake of the sex abuse scandal in the U.S., that Pope John Paul II, upon the request of then Cardinal Ratzinger, transferred all cases of abusive priests to the CDF in order to speed up the process.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took an active interest in the case throughout the 1990s, in order to guarantee that the Church trial underway in the Diocese of Tucson was properly completed. The trial was completed in 1997. The cleric in question was found guilty and laicized,” Fr. Lombardi stated.

“The evidence clearly and certainly shows this. The Bishop of Tucson, Bishop Kicanas had already stated as much in response to local press inquiries and published letters from the CDF confirm this.”

Fr. Lombardi went on to note that Fr. Teta, however, presented an appeal. “His appeal reached the Congregation Tribunal during a period in which the revision of the canonical norms previously in force had already started. The appeals were therefore pending until the entry into force of new legislation in 2001, which resulted in all cases of ‘serious crimes’ being placed under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a faster and more secure treatment.”

The Vatican Press Office Director observes that “beginning in 2001, all pending appeals have been handled promptly, and the Teta appeal was one of the first to be handled. This took time, because there was a particularly large volume of documentation.  In any case, the decision of the trial court was confirmed in toto (in full,) and Teta was defrocked in 2004.”

Fr. Lombardi concluded: “It must not be forgotten that even when appeals are pending and the sentence is suspended, precautionary measures are imposed by the bishop on the accused. Indeed, Teta had been suspended from the exercise of priestly ministry in 1990." 

The original AP breaking news story did not mention the fact that Fr. Teta was suspended in 1990. The same AP story also missed the fact that it was Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno who failed to notify police about allegations against Teta and another Tucson abusive priest, Robert Trupia until 2000, when the U.S. bishops adopted mandatory reporting policies.

Today the Associated Press released another story implying that Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was involved in mishandling the case of an abusive priest.

The second AP story is based on a 2006 deposition that Cardinal Levada gave as the former Archbishop of Portland, Ore., in a case of sex abuse allegations against a priest he restored to duty.

The case involving Father Joseph Baccellieri and others was settled in 2007 for more than $50 million.

As Archbishop of Portland, Levada removed Baccellieri in 1992 after complaints involving teenage boys, but allowed him to return after intense therapy on a limited basis under close supervision in 1994.

Levada also set conditions for Baccellieri, including continuous counseling and therapy, regular reporting by his therapist to the Archdiocese of Portland, close monitoring, limitations on ministry activities and residence outside a parish setting or under the supervision of other priests.

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In the deposition, Levada told attorneys, “If I thought Father Baccellieri would be a risk to any child, I would never have reassigned him.”

Nevertheless, one of the trial attorneys, Erin Olson, decided on Friday to release the deposition to AP because she was “angry” by the fact that Cardinal Levada posted a statement on the Vatican website defending Pope Benedict from the accusations made by the New York Times. 

Levada’s crime, according to the AP story, was not to inform parishioners at the parish where Baccellieri was reassigned as an assistant. “There was nothing in records e-mailed by the archdiocese to The Associated Press on Friday showing there was any explicit prohibition on contact between Baccellieri and parishioners,” the story said.

In the same deposition quoted by AP, Cardinal William Levada insisted he had given complete information to the pastor of the parish about the history of Baccellieri.

Cardinal Levada was Archbishop of Portland from 1986 to 1995.

In a 2004 press release, the archdiocese noted there were no further complaints about Baccellieri before his retirement.

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