What Ratzinger Knew in 1988

Leon J. Podles: Dialogue
February 20, 2010

On July, 8, 1988, Archbishop Levada of Portland , Oregon, wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, about the case of the Rev. Thomas Laughlin.

Laughlin, Levada explains, was ordained in 1948 at the age of 23. Levada continues, "he began homosexual contacts with boys shortly after his ordination (about age 25), and admitted to such misconduct both during his first priestly assignment as a teacher at Central Catholic High School, and as a pastor of St. Mary Parish in Corvallis. These contacts continued and apparently increased in frequency and number during his tenure as pastor of All Saints Parish until the time criminal charges of sexual abuse of minors were brought against him in 1983."

"The reliable testimony of several boys questioned suggests that Fr. Laughlin used the confessional for purposes of solicitation.

"Even after his conviction, sentence, and having served six months in prison, he abused the privilege of his court ordered parole under the aegis of the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico by arranging for a secret liaison with one of the young men he had molested, and paid for his journey to meet him in San Diego for the purposes of engaging in sexual conduct."

Archbishop Power of Portland had known about the abuse by at least 1975 and had not acted on it. That is not surprising, since in 1976 Power had received this letter from an official of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Seminary in British Columbia in which the official conveyed information from a "most reliable source" about Philip Steigerwald:

PHILIP STEIGERWALD, presently working in Queen of Peace, Salem, Oregon, scheduled to be ordained to the Priesthood on the 20th day of June , 1976, is an avowed homosexual.

He rationalizes that neither the world nor the Church, at the present time, understands the beauty and good in such a relationship. His companion, at the present time, is another seminarian at Mount Angel (redacted). Philip has practiced homosexuality since thirteen years of age and claims to have been initiated into this practice by his confessor at that time.

This situation is known to his mother, some of his family and, at least two or more seminarians.
Archbishop Power found this letter no reason not to ordain Steigerwald, who of course made sexual advances to boys in his parish. Years later, their mother found out, and talked to a priest, who told them "that the archdiocese knew before they ordained Phil that he was a homosexual." The mother wanted an explanation. So do I. The most probable one is not flattering to the personal moral conduct of Archbishop Power.

Ratzinger may not have known about the type of person who Power thought was suitable for the priesthood, but he certainly knew there were severe problems in the Church in the United States. Why the failure to act effectively? Did Ratzinger tell himself these must be bizarre and isolated cases but he was getting them on a regular basis. Or was he following John Paul's implicit or explicit instructions about how to handle sexual abuse cases discretely and quietly? As Pope Benedict, Ratzinger owes the Church an explanation.


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