For ‘the good of the universal church’

The AP is now raising the stakes in tying the future Pope Benedict XVI to a sex-abuse scandal involving a former, monstrous Oakland priest.

The Diocese of Oakland recommended defrocking the priest in 1981, three years after he pleaded no contest to tying up and molesting two boys.

According to the AP, Ratzinger did not respond for four years. Then he refused to defrock the priest, writing of the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful.”

Is it a legitimate story that makes the future pope look really bad or another example of biased, anti-Catholic reporting?

Here it is:

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AP EXCLUSIVE: Future pope stalled pedophile case

By GILLIAN FLACCUS (AP) – 1 hour ago

LOS ANGELES — The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican’s insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog office.

The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.

The Vatican refused to comment on the contents of the letter Friday, but a spokesman confirmed it bore Ratzinger’s signature.

“The press office doesn’t believe it is necessary to respond to every single document taken out of context regarding particular legal situations,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “It is not strange that there are single documents which have Cardinal Ratzinger’s signature.”

The diocese recommended removing Kiesle (KEEZ’-lee) from the priesthood in 1981, the year Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican office which shared responsibility for disciplining abusive priests.

The case then languished for four years at the Vatican before Ratzinger finally wrote to Oakland Bishop John Cummins. It was two more years before Kiesle was removed.

In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of “grave significance” but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible” while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.

But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the “good of the universal church” and the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age.” Kiesle was 38 at the time.

Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory. Continue reading

Church without God at Harvard

The recently released American Religious Identification Survey found that 15% of Americans have no religious affiliation (and another 5% did not know their religious identity).

Can non-religious people be drawn into religious-like congregations for the sake of community?

Probably not, at least not in real numbers. But the humanist chaplain at Harvard is giving it a shot:

By JAY LINDSAY
Associated Press Writer

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — The monthly schedule is church-like, with its parenting classes, guest speakers and small group meetings to hash out shared beliefs. But God isn’t part of this Cambridge congregation.

Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is building a God-free model of community that he hopes helps humanists increase in numbers and influence.

Epstein (that’s him, left) sees potential in research showing that there are more people with no religion. In the latest American Religious Identification Survey, released this month, 15 percent of respondents in 2008 said they had no religion, compared to 8.2 percent in 1990. Epstein believes that group includes large numbers of people who are humanist, but have never identified themselves that way and can be reached.

At the same time, there is broader acceptance of those with no faith, as indicated by President Barack Obama’s mention of “nonbelievers” in his inaugural address, Epstein said.

Definitions of humanism vary. Generally, humanists reject belief in the supernatural and are guided by reason, experience and compassion for others. Epstein defines the philosophy as a commitment to living ethical, personally fulfilling lives while serving the greater good.

Epstein wants to plant local humanist centers nationwide that perform many of the community-building functions of a church, only in service of the humanist creed. He will promote his idea as he tours the country to promote his book, “Good Without God,” which is scheduled to be published by HarperCollins later this year. Epstein will receive assistance and funding from groups such as the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance, which have chapters they hope to strengthen and multiply.

“There are so many millions of people out there who basically share our views, that we’ve got room for everybody,” Epstein said. “What we’re doing here has got to grow even more.” Continue reading

Wanted in Alabama: Jewish families

Here’s one way for Jewish families to counteract the recession: Move to Dotham, Alabama.

Huh?

The only synagogue in town is offering Jewish families up to $50,000 to relocate so that the congregation doesn’t shut down.

A family that’s been part of Temple Emanu-El for decades put up $1 million to fund the resettlement program.

The Reed family of Sanford, N.C., was the first to make the move.

“It’s been freaky how easy this has been,” Matt Reed, 25, told the AP.

About 400 families have applied. 60 were chosen for a vetting process that “includes written references — including one from their rabbi — home visits, checks for criminal and financial problems, and interviews.”

Any suburbanites from NY thinking about chucking the rat race and heading down south?

Vatican: Bishop Williamson not back in

Yesterday, Bishop Richard Williamson apologized, sort of, for his Holocaust-denying interview.

He said: “Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them.”

But the Vatican said today that Williamson did not go far enough.

From the AP’s Nicole Winfield:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday that the apology issued by an ultraconservative bishop who denied the Holocaust was not good enough to admit him into the Catholic Church as a clergyman.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Bishop Richard Williamson’s statement “doesn’t appear to respect the conditions” the Vatican set out for him.

In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, Williamson denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, saying 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered. He said none were gassed.

Williamson apologized for his remarks on Thursday, saying he would never have made them if he had known “the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise.”

But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, nor that he no longer believed them.

Williamson’s initial remarks sparked widespread outrage among Jewish groups and others. The interview was broadcast just days before the Vatican announced that it was lifting his excommunication and that of three other bishops.

The four, members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, had been excommunicated after being consecrated as bishops without papal consent in 1988.

Bowing to the criticism, the Vatican on Feb. 4 demanded that Williamson “absolutely and unequivocally distance himself from his remarks about the Shoah if he is to be admitted to episcopal functions in the church.” Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

In his statement Friday, Lombardi noted that Williamson’s comments were not addressed to Pope Benedict XVI or to the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei commission, which has been dealing with the Society of St. Pius X ever since its bishops were excommunicated. Continue reading