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Protecting child rapists

11 April 2010. Once again the news features a story about a child molester protected by the institutions that are supposed to protect us from such miscreants. This time both the Vatican and the US criminal justice system allowed a sexual predator named Stephen Kiesle to spend most of his adult life free to harm young people. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are so outraged by the Kiesle case that they have called for the arrest of Pope Benedict XVI. Colleagues complained to the Vatican in 1981 about Kiesle. He had been convicted of tying up and molesting two boys in a California church rectory in 1978. More than a half-dozen victims reached a settlement in 2005 with the Oakland, Calif., diocese after accusing Kiesle of molesting them as young children.

...Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas from the diocese to act on the case, according to a 1985 letter in Latin obtained by The Associated Press that bore his signature as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

It would take another two years before the Vatican doctrine watchdog office headed by Ratzinger would approve Kiesle's own request to leave the priesthood in 1987. (Sacramento Bee, "Worries about Calif. priest came early in career".)

The letter, signed by Ratzinger, reads: "Consider thePope Benedict XVI as a Hitler Youth good of the Universal Church. It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time." In a defense of Ratzinger, The Catholic League of Australia writes: "Everyone is entitled to legal processes, Benedict can not be critcised for this."

By the same reasoning, I suppose, our criminal justice system can't be criticized for its treatment of Kiesle, 63, who is now free and living in a gated community in Walnut Creek, California. In 2004, he was sentenced to six years in state prison for molesting a young girl in his home in 1995. I don't know how much time he actually spent in prison or how many children he molested between 1995 and 2004. In 2002, Kiesle was charged with 13 counts of child molestation from the 1970s. All but two were thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law extending the statute of limitations. For tying up and molesting the two boys in 1978, Kiesle was put on probation for three years and did no jail time. By my calculation, Kiesle, a known sexual predator, spent about 35 of the last 40 years free to commit his sins and crimes thanks to the legal protections that both the church and the state granted him.

One wonders how many sexual predators and child rapists would have been given their rightful punishment by the state had the church turned them over. I fear it may be wishful thinking to assume these wicked men would have received the harsh punishments they deserve. The Catholic Church may be flawed, but our criminal justice system isn't much better when it comes to protecting our children from sexual perverts.

further reading

Oakland Priest’s Accuser Describes Sexual Abuse (New York Times)

Melinda Costello, said she had been abused for several years, beginning at age 7, as a parishioner in nearby Fremont, Calif., where the Rev. Stephen Kiesle was working at a church as a seminarian in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ms. Costello, now 48 and on disability because of arthritis, says that Mr. Kiesle — who was ordained as a priest in 1972 — first playfully invited her to sit on his lap, part of a youthful demeanor that he fostered, she said, including wearing purple tennis shoes in church...Ms. Costello says Father Kiesle’s touching and tickling soon progressed to fondling her chest and genitals. “He told me the devil was inside me,” she said, adding that the priest sometimes cast his actions as an exorcism.

Connecticut bishops fight sex abuse bill (CNN)

A bill in Connecticut's legislature that would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases has sparked a fervent response from the state's Roman Catholic bishops, who released a letter to parishioners Saturday imploring them to oppose the measure.

Under current Connecticut law, sexual abuse victims have 30 years past their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. The proposed change to the law would rescind that statute of limitations.

The proposed change to the law would put "all Church institutions, including your parish, at risk," says the letter, which was signed by Connecticut's three Roman Catholic bishops.

10 April 2010. Like many of you, I'm weary of stories about Catholic priests who rape children only to be sent to new parishes by their superiors where they can rape more children. My righteous indignation was deflected this morning, however, while sipping my coffee and reading the news created by some of my fellow human beings. A story about the death of Timothy White woke me from my anti-clerical slumber.

In 1980, 5-year-old White and 14-year-old Steven Stayner ran away from the home of their kidnapper and molester, Kenneth Parnell. Stayner had been held by Parnell since was 7. Two weeks after Parnell had kidnapped White, Stayner decided to run away with White to prevent, he said, the same thing happening to the young boy that had happened to him.

Parnell, you should be glad to know, died in prison in 2008. But he didn't die while serving a life term for kidnapping and molesting Stayner and White. My newspaper tells me that Parnell served five years for those kidnappings and wasn't even charged with the molestations. Five years was all he got, even though authorities knew that he'd spent four years in prison in the 1950s for sodomizing a young boy. Authorities apparently had trouble getting the young Stayner to admit he'd been molested and perhaps they wanted to spare him and the 5-year-old White from the ordeal of testifying against Parnell. Even so, five years for kidnapping two children seems outrageously unjust. (Parnell had also been jailed in Utah for armed robbery in the 1960s.)

Parnell was free to kidnap and molest again from the time of his release in 1986 until his arrest in 2003. By that time, the 71-year-old Parnell had several health problems and had to have a caretaker. He was arrested for trying to coerce the caregiver into buying him a 4-year-old boy.

The caregiver, Diane Stevens, was aware of Parnell's past and cooperated with police in setting up a sting operation that would lead to his arrest. According to Diane Stevens' testimony, Parnell requested the child have a "clean" rectum, indicating sexual intentions. He paid $100 for a birth certificate and had $400 on his person for the completion of the transaction when he was to receive the child on January 3, 2003.*

How is it that a malicious man like Kenneth Parnell can spend most of his adult life outside of prison? We know he was a good actor, playing the kind and gentle protector while pretending to be a police officer during one crime and a church pastor in another. His act may have been good enough to dupe young children, but it shouldn't have fooled cops, district attorneys, judges, and juries. Did it? I don't know. It's not like his actions and tendencies were unknown to authorities. It's not like he bribed officials. It's not like the authorities were trying to protect a "sinner" who was doing God's work. So what the hell went wrong?

The newspaper says that White probably died of a pulmonary embolism. Stayner died in a motorcycle crash in 1989. His brother, Cary, is in San Quentin awaiting execution for murdering four women in Yosemite in 1999.

The destruction of lives that followed in the wake of Parnell's actions is impossible to measure completely. But the Catholic Church would be hard pressed to match the sordid story of Kenneth Parnell's life as a child rapist protected from justice by the very institution established to protect the rest of us from predators like him. Who am I kidding? Of course the Catholic Church can trump Parnell for wickedness: just ask the Alaskan Natives who are accusing the Catholic Church of using their remote villages as a “dumping ground” for child-raping priests.

Is  Parnell an anomaly? Or is he just one case among many that the media and the bloggers haven't created a frenzy over?

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