Former Pope Benedict asks for forgiveness over handling of abuse cases

Retired pontiff expresses ‘pain’ over cases during his time as Munich archbishop, but does not admit wrongdoing

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated he did no wrong on clerical sex abuse during his time as archbishop of Munich, but conceded his "profound shame" at abuses that occured while he held a senior position within the Catholic Church.

The retired pope was responding to a 2,000-page report which flagged five potentially mishandled cases of abusing priests in Munich during his time as archbishop there, from 1977-1982.

In his original 82-page written testimony, the 94-year-old said he had no knowledge and thus no responsibility for any of these cases. He also denied attending a meeting where one paedophile priest was discussed.

Presented with evidence to the contrary, he later corrected the record. On Tuesday he said this error, which was “regrettably verified”, was “not intentionally willed and I hope may be excused”.

“It proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar,” he said. Regarding the sexual abuse of children, and clerical cover-up, he added: “However great my fault may be today, the Lord forgives me, if I sincerely allow myself to be examined by him, and am really prepared to change.”

His lawyers hit back more forcefully in a second letter, accusing investigators of relying on “rumour and second-hand gossip” rather than evidence to back their accusations.

‘Transcription error’

It said a church lawyer commissioned to view diocesan records for the ex-pope’s response had “inadvertently made a transcription error” over the January 1980 meeting of the archdiocese chancery. At this meeting officials discussed a request from the diocese of Essen to accept a priest to Munich for psychotherapy. He later went on to abuse in at least two Bavarian parishes.

The meeting discussed the possibility of accepting the priest, the ex-pope’s lawyers confirmed on Tuesday, but insisted the priest’s sexual abuse record was not part of the discussion. Munich investigators dispute this assertion.

"Joseph Ratzinger was neither aware that [the priest] was an abuser, nor that he was included in pastoral activity," the letter said.

As for the errors, they said the former pope “did not recognise the mistake due to time pressure . . . but relied on the apparent written evidence of his absence [from the meeting].”

“One cannot impute this transcription error to Benedict XVI as a conscious false statement or ‘lie’,” his lawyers wrote, noting his attendance is mentioned in an authorised biography of him, published in 2020.

In their statement, they disputed claims the retired pope trivilialised the harm caused by another Munich priest with exhibitionist tendencies. The lawyers insisted his evidence merely pointed out the legal opinion of a diocesan official at the time, that such acts were not a crime under canon law at the time.

Christoph Röhl, maker of a documentary about the former pope, described the response as “classic Ratzinger”.

“There are countless well-documented cases proving that Ratzinger turned a blind eye when confronted with notorious instances of sexual abuse,” he told The Irish Times. “Yet not once has he accepted personal responsibility for the systemic cover-up that took place under his watch. He has always blamed others.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

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