Munich abuse report accuses retired Pope of abuse failings

Munich abuse report accuses retired Pope of abuse failings Then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger is pictured in this file photo on May 28, 1977, the day of his ordination as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Photo: CNS/KNA.

A law firm’s report on how abuse cases were handled in the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising has criticised retired Pope Benedict XVI, with lawyers accusing him of mishandling four cases during his tenure as Munich archbishop.

Lawyer Martin Pusch of the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl said the retired Pope had denied wrongdoing in all cases, reports the German Catholic news agency KNA.

Mr Pusch said two cases concerned priests who were criminally prosecuted for abuse under then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger but were allowed to continue working as priests. No action was taken against them under Church law the lawyer said, and there had been “nothing discernible” done in terms of caring for the welfare of the victims.

KNA reported the lawyers said the retired Pope’s statements offered “an authentic insight” into the personal attitude of a prominent church representative toward abuse.

Mr Pusch expressed doubt about Pope Benedict’s claim of ignorance in some cases, saying this was, at times, “hardly reconcilable” with the files.

In one instance, it is alleged Benedict knew about a priest accused of abusing boys who was transferred to his diocese – but continued to work in pastoral care roles.

The former Pope is reported to have submitted dozens of pages of answers to the law firm’s questioning, in which he expressed support for the inquiry but denied any knowledge or lack of action around the abuse allegations.

The report, however, contains minutes which “strongly suggest” he was present at a meeting at which the subject was discussed.

At the Vatican, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said, “The Holy See believes it has an obligation to give serious attention to the document” on cases of abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, but it has not yet had a chance to study it.

“In the coming days, following its publication, the Holy See will review it and will be able to properly examine its details. Reiterating its sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path taken to protect the youngest, ensuring safe environments for them,” Mr Bruni said.

Retired Pope Benedict headed the Munich Archdiocese from 1977 to 1982, before being called to the Vatican to head the doctrinal congregation.

From 2001, when St John Paul II charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – with the authority to take over cases from local bishops for investigation, Pope Benedict was aware of many examples of abuse. It was his office in 2003 that expedited the process for laicising priests guilty of sexually abusing minors.

After his election in 2005, Pope Benedict worked to address lingering concerns. Although he mostly stayed out of public view in retirement, in April 2019 the former Pope in April published what he described as ‘notes’ on the abuse crisis, tracing the roots of the scandal to a loss of a firm faith and moral certainty that began in the 1960s. The church’s response, he insisted, must focus on a recovery of a sense of faith and of right and wrong.

A previous report into historical abuse in Germany concluded that more than 3,600 people nationwide had been abused by clergy members between 1946 and 2014. Many of the victims were very young and served as altar boys.

The new report looking into the Munich and Freising areas specifically found at least 497 abuse victims from 1945 to 2019.

In addition to the former Pope, the report criticised other Church figures, including the region’s current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx. He was found to have failed to act in two cases of alleged abuse.

The cardinal already offered Pope Francis his resignation in June 2021, saying he should share responsibility for the “catastrophe” of abuse which was coming to light.

Pope Francis, however, refused to accept the resignation.

Additional reporting by Catholic News Service.