"Laicization” or “losing the clerical state” is easily misunderstood. It is not the same thing as removing a priest from ministry. Laicization is much more like removing a priest’s sacramental status than his ministerial status (though even the former is a bit of legal fiction, since even a laicized priest retains sacramental “character”). A priest may abandon or be removed from his ministry without being laicized, that is, without ceasing to be considered a priest in the eyes of the Church. A familiar example would Fr. Maciel Degollado of the Legionnaires of Christ, whom Benedict, in view of Maciel’s old age and obvious guilt, assigned to a life of retirement and penance without laicization.
Hence, when Bishop Cummins wrote to Ratzinger saying, “There might be greater scandal to the community if Fr. Kiesle were allowed to return to active ministry,” he was surely correct. However, the decision to return Kiesle to ministry was Cummins’, not Ratzinger’s, and was distinct from the decision to laicize.
In fact according to the official request sent to John Paul II, Kiesle had already “procured a job of reasonable support” outside a parish and had made an “irrevocable decision to leave active ministry”–effective two years before Ratzinger assumed office in 1982. I repeat: Kiesle was not ministering as a priest.