CNN Revives Three-Week-Old Story to Cast Pope in Bad Light

[Update, 6:06 pm Eastern: CNN ran a slanted commercial promoting Tuchman's report on Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday afternoon, touting how then-Cardinal Ratzinger apparently "resisted" Bishop Cummins's requests to expel the abuser from the priesthood. (see video at right).]

CNN's Gary Tuchman revisited a three-week-old story on a priest abuse case in California during a segment on Monday's AC360, and did his best to cast Pope Benedict XVI's handling of the priest's removal from priestly life (laicization), when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in the worst light possible. Tuchman omitted key details about the case which clarify the then-cardinal's conduct in handling it.

Anchor Anderson Cooper gave a slanted introduction to the correspondent's report, which aired 46 minutes into the 10 pm Eastern hour: "Protecting predator priests instead of their prey- that is at the center of the growing sex scandal rocking the Catholic Church. And as we've been reporting, questions surrounded Pope Benedict XVI...Well, tonight, an accusation from survivors of abuse in California, that the future pope delayed the removal of a pedophile priest, and as you'll see if in our '360' investigation, the most damaging evidence may have been put in writing."

After detailing the case surrounding Stephen Kiesle, a former Catholic priest of the Diocese of Oakland, California, Tuchman gave his summary of the Church's actions against the abuser:

Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgTUCHMAN: Kiesle was sentenced to probation. At the time, he also decided he no longer wanted to be a priest. The bishop of the Oakland diocese agreed....[Bishop] Cummins said Kiesle needed to go, but once a priest, always a priest- only the Vatican can defrock. So in 1981, Bishop Cummins wrote to the Vatican, stating Kiesle took- quote, 'sexual liberties with at least six young men, ranging from 11 to 13 years of age during the period of November 1977 to May 1978.' The bishop, who is now retired and didn't want to talk to CNN, went on, 'It is our opinion that Father Stephen Kiesle be relieved of all of the obligations of the priesthood.' It was the first of a chain of letters: the bishop writing in English, letters back from the Vatican in Latin. It went on over four years, until finally, a Vatican letter came saying Rome needed even more time because, 'We deem it necessary to consider the good of the universal church.' (Tuchman later clarified that the letter was signed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.)
What Tuchman leaves out is that Kiesle initiated his request for laicization himself, not Bishop Cummins, as Phil Lawler of CatholicCulture.org pointed out on April 10. Lawler made a series of corrections to the AP's take on the case from April 9 (which the CNN correspondent mirrored during his report), including the fact that the former Oakland bishop was not seeking to laicize Kiesle as punishment for his misconduct.

Later in the article, the CatholicCulture.org writer noted that then-Cardinal Ratzinger's reluctance to make a quick decision did not mean the abuser was kept in active ministry, as Bishop Cummins "had placed him on an extended leave of absence long before the application for laicization was entered." In fact, as Father Joseph Fessio pointed out in an April 9 blog entry, "this entire affair had nothing to do with preventing further abuse by this priest. That had already been done...by the local bishop."

More importantly, as Lawler was apt to point out, Tuchman omitted that a quicker laicization would not have protected children, as Kiesle had received a light sentence for his abuse from California's courts. He continued that the Vatican wasn't the party that destroyed evidence on the priest's case, but the California judicial system: "The civil courts of California destroyed that evidence after the priest completed a sentence of probation-- before the case ever reached Rome." But this didn't seem to matter to the CNN correspondent, who recounted later in his report that "Kiesle...had already been punished for his crimes against the children. So why wouldn't the Vatican remove him from the priesthood immediately?"

Later in his report, Tuchman presented several women who claim abuse at the hands of Kiesle during the 1970s, but "kept...[the] secret for years":
TUCHMAN (voice-over): ...[W]e know Father Kiesle was teaching a class...and these four women were in it. They each say they kept a secret for years, that Father Kiesle was also molesting them. They recently learned about the letters to then-Cardinal Ratzinger and are considering their own lawsuits.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: I'm devastated by him. I can't believe that he would let that go and think, for the better of the Church, let's not do this. What about the better of the kids?

TUCHMAN: You must also hear this woman's story, who says she was molested. She is the daughter of Kiesle's current wife.

TERRI ROSSON, DAUGHTER OF KIESLE'S WIFE: He is just so sick, and I can't believe that I had to have him in my life all those years, knowing what he has done to everybody now.

TUCHMAN: Finally, six years after the bishop first wrote, Cardinal Ratzinger's office removed Kiesle from the priesthood. Then, after he was defrocked, Kiesle molested again. It was 1995. He victimized a girl. He recently got out of prison for that.
Again, what is left out is that it was Bishop Cummins's responsibility to make sure Kiesle was kept away from children, not the Vatican's. Throughout all of this, then-Cardinal Ratzinger and his congregation was solely handling the abuser's request for laicization, instead of investigating the history of allegations against him, which was the responsibility of a different congregation at the Vatican.

Since March 2010, CNN has consistently slanted against the Catholic Church and the Pope in its coverage of the abuse scandal. On March 26, anchor Kyra Phillips used the scandal as a pretext to bring on three left-wing/heterodox Christians who all endorse radical changes inside the Catholic Church and endorsed their agenda (she brought back two of the same guests almost a month later on April 21). The network then brought on anti-Catholic singer Sinead O'Connor during segments on Anderson Cooper 360 and Larry King Live late in March to discuss the scandal. Commentator Jack Cafferty devoted five of his commentaries over 20 days to bashing Benedict XVI and the Church during March and April. CNN also touted a Massachusetts priest who called for the Pope's resignation.
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center