Church files show that before becoming pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger resisted defrocking a California priest who molested children.
A 1985 letter signed by Ratzinger cited concerns about the effect that removing the priest would have on "the good of the universal church."
The correspondence was obtained exclusively by The Associated Press. It is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican's insistence that Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, played no role in blocking removal of pedophile priests while head of the Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog office.
The letter is part of years of correspondence between the diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.
The Vatican confirmed Ratzinger's signature on the letter but declined comment on its contents.
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