|Benedict Called Agent of Delay in Ariz. Cases
By Michael Rezendes
April 3, 2010
In 1997, a Catholic tribunal in Tucson formally determined that a local priest had solicited sex while hearing confession, saying that evidence in the case against the Rev. Michael Teta showed that his ‘‘insidious ‘rape’ ’’ of his victims was ‘‘so heinous that the only solution is that he take up some other occupation.’’
In a sentencing document that runs more than 100 pages, the tribunal recounted the evidence against Teta, saying at one point that ‘‘there is almost a satanic quality in his mode of acting toward young men and boys.’’
Despite the urgency of the findings, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top Vatican official, took more than six years to review the case before Pope John Paul II affirmed a decision to strip Teta of his status as a priest, or laicize him.
The leader of the Tucson Diocese, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, said Friday that Teta was not allowed to wear a clerical collar or represent himself as a priest during the long proceedings against him, nor did church officials receive allegations that Teta committed sexually inappropriate acts after the proceedings against him began.
But attorneys for two of Teta’s victims say that Ratzinger’s lengthy review of the case, along with the extended consideration of the case of a second Tucson priest, are evidence that Ratzinger was unreasonably reluctant to discipline abusive priests.
‘‘Ratzinger’s role in these cases is of someone so concerned with procedural niceties that he ignores the spiritual and physical safety of his victims,’’ attorney Lynne Cadigan said. ‘‘Local bishops wrote directly to Cardinal Ratzinger on several occasions begging him to expedite the process and immediately laicize these priests, who were two of the most notorious serial sexual abusers within the Diocese of Tucson, but he never responded to those appeals.’’
Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, assumed a personal role in the Teta case in 1992, five years before the tribunal’s ruling, when he wrote to Tucson Bishop Manuel Moreno, informing the bishop that his office would review the results of the tribunal, along with evidence in the case. In his two-page letter, which has come to light because of civil lawsuits against the Tucson Diocese, Ratzinger also admonished the diocese to adhere to a set of procedures designed to ensure that the proceedings remain secret.
‘‘We would very much appreciate your giving assurance that the judicial process for Father Teta is being pursued in fact in accordance with this Congregation’s ‘Instructio,’ a copy of which is herewith enclosed,’’ said Ratzinger. At the time, Ratzinger was in charge of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had oversight of cases in which priests were accused of abusing the sacrament of confession.
On Friday — which was Good Friday, a holy day for Catholics — the Globe was unable to reach Catholic authorities at the Vatican Embassy in Washington for a response to the documents in the two cases. But in Tucson, Kicanas released a written statement laying primary responsibility for the length of the process of laicizing Teta on the procedural requirements of church law.
‘‘Canonical trials in the church, because of the need to respect the right to due process, can take a long time,’’ Kicanas said. ‘‘In my mind, after a review of the documentation, it would be inaccurate to suggest that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office delayed resolution of the Teta case. In fact, the office sought to expedite the case.’’
While the diocese in its written statement said that neither Teta nor the second Tucson priest, the Rev. Robert Trupia, were allowed to act as priests during the Vatican review, both continued to be paid the equivalent of about $1,500 a month.
Regardless of what restrictions were placed on the priests, lawyers for the victims of Teta and Trupia say formal laicization is significant because this action, unlike the previous proceedings, is made public, revealing the identities of abusive priests.
In addition to the Catholic tribunal’s action against Teta, which found he solicited sex from adult men in the confessional, a civil court later awarded more than $1.5 million to two men who said Teta sexually abused them when they were children. The men said they were abused in the late 1970s, after Teta lured them into the priest’s chamber during confession, according to victims’ lawyers. One of the victims was 7 at the time, making his first confession.
The Globe documented the allegations against Trupia in 2002, which included accusations that he was a serial sexual molester who resisted efforts by Tucson church officials to discipline him, at one point going so far as to attempt to blackmail his bishop.
The newly aired documents show that Ratzinger’s office became involved in the Trupia case no later than 2003, two years after Pope John Paul II ordered his office to assume oversight of all clergy sexual abuse cases. Up to that time, Trupia had been engaged in an 11-year battle with his supervisors over the allegations against him and a request by Moreno that Trupia undergo a psychological evaluation to determine whether he could continue his career as a priest in good standing.
The documents do not show that Ratzinger personally intervened in the Trupia case, as he did in the Teta case, but they include notices from his office regarding Trupia’s status. They also include letters to Ratzinger written by officials in the Tucson Diocese beseeching him to immediately laicize Trupia.
On March 28, 2003, for example, Kicanas wrote directly to Ratzinger requesting ‘‘an urgent administrative decision by the Holy See to dismiss [Trupia] from the clerical state,’’ referring to Trupia as ‘‘a repetitive abuser’’ and noting that the diocese had settled a multimillion-dollar civil suit based on allegations that Trupia had molested minors.
It was not until July of the following year, an interval of 16 months, that the Vatican laicized Trupia and Teta.
Michael Rezendes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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