Emeritus Pope Benedict admits to false clerical sex abuse testimony

Retired pontiff apologises over evidence to inquiry into abuse in Munich archdiocese

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has conceded he did not tell the truth to an investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Munich archdiocese, blaming an "oversight".

Last week investigators dismissed as "not credible" the former pope's insistence he was not present at a meeting in 1980 when a Munich archdiocese committee – which he headed as then archbishop Joseph Ratzinger – discussed a request by the Essen diocese to accept a priest for psychotherapy.

The therapy was to address the priest’s paedophile tendencies and, in Essen and later Munich, he abused at least a dozen young men. Despite warnings from his superiors in Essen, the priest – identified only as Peter H – was put to work in Munich parishes, even after a suspended child abuse sentence in 1986.

Munich investigators say they can link four abusing priests to the former pope as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982. In total, their report identified 497 cases of clerical abuse and at least 235 perpetrators inside the church between 1945 and 2019.

In Benedict’s original testimony, submitted in writing last month, the 94-year-old denied attending a January 15th, 1980, meeting when the transfer was discussed. Unveiling their report last week, lawyers presented written minutes of the meeting indicating the opposite.

On Monday Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the retired pope's personal secretary, issued a statement correcting the record. The previous claim was "objectively wrong", it said, and he did attend the meeting.

“This did not happen in bad faith but is a consequence of an oversight in the editorial editing of his statement,” he said. “He is very sorry for this mistake and asks to forgive it.”

‘No knowledge’

Apart from this correction, Benedict stands by the rest of his original testimony, that he had “no knowledge” about the priest’s “history” or the reason for the transfer.

In his 82-page testimony, Benedict insisted that his long-term memory was good and that, whenever he said in his written statement he had no memory of something, he was “convinced that I have not met the person or that I did not know the facts or the document”.

The case of Peter H has hung over the former pope since 2010, when details leaked from a suppressed report of investigation. After that, a former deputy to archbishop Ratzinger in Munich said he was “pressured” in 2010 to take sole responsibility for the case.

In 2016, an internal diocesan investigation concluded that archbishop Ratzinger and his successor in Munich had “knowledge of the facts” about Peter H and ignored a church obligation to report him to Rome.

Last week, investigators said it was “overwhelmingly likely”, that archbishop Ratzinger was aware of abusing priests in his archdiocese and said he refused to engage self-critically with his past.

"His conviction that anything of which he has no memory did not happen seems to the investigators as neither credible nor sound," the report concludes. On Thursday Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, will hold a press conference to comment on the report's findings and consequences.

A leading German support group for victims of clerical sexual abuse described the correction as a “scandal”.

"He should apologise for the entire business for which he is responsible, through which perpetrator priests could endanger children for decades in the diocese," said Matthias Katsch, of the Eckiger Tisch survivors' group.

On Sunday Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg said many German critics, rather than addressing child-sex abuse elsewhere in society, had "dumped" their fury into the lap of Benedict, using him and the Catholic Church as "scapegoats".