Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.
In another Tucson case, that of Msgr. Robert Trupia, the bishop wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005. Bishop Manuel Moreno called Trupia "a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that he many have contact with." There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded.
The details of the two cases come as other allegations emerge that Benedict
- as a Vatican cardinal - was part of a culture of cover-up and confidentiality.
"There's no doubt that Ratzinger delayed the defrocking process of dangerous priests who were deemed `satanic' by their own bishop," Lynne Cadigan, an attorney who represented two of Teta's victims, said Friday.
Meanwhile, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Moreno's replacement, defended the Vatican's handling of the Arizona cases, citing the prolonged process of internal church trials that he acknowledged could be "frustratingly slow because of the seriousness of the concerns."
Kicanas said suggestions that Ratzinger resisted addressing the issues of sexual abuse in the church were "grossly unfair."
"Cardinal Ratzinger, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was always receptive, ready to listen, to hear people's concerns," Kicanas said. "Pope Benedict is the same man."
In the 1990s, a church tribunal found that Teta had molested children as far back as the 1970s, and the panel determined "there is almost a satanic quality in his mode of acting toward young men and boys."
The tribunal referred Teta's case, which included allegations that he abused boys in a confessional, to Ratzinger. The church considers cases of abuse in confessionals more serious than other molestations because they also defile the sacrament of penance.
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.
Teta was accused of engaging in abuse not long after his arrival to the Diocese of Tucson in 1978. Among the eventual allegations: that he molested two boys, ages 7 and 9, in the confessional as they prepared for their First Communion.
Teta was removed from ministry by the bishop, but because the church's most severe punishment
- laicization - can only be handed down from Rome, he remained on the church payroll and was working with young people outside the church.
In a signed letter dated June 8, 1992, Ratzinger advised Moreno he was taking control of the case, according to a copy provided to the AP from Cadigan, the victims' attorney. Five years later, no action had been taken.
"This case has already gone on for seven years," Moreno wrote Ratzinger on April 28, 1997, adding, "I make this plea to you to assist me in every way you can to expedite this case."
It would be another seven years before Teta was laicized.