Former pope Benedict criticised in Munich church abuse report

Investigators dismiss as ‘not credible’ Benedict’s claims he did not attend key meeting

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI said he still had a good long-term memory so that, whenever he said 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’. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty

in Berlin

German investigators say it is "overwhelmingly likely" that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was aware of at least four abusing and paedophile priests during his time as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

His former deputy in the diocese has claimed that, when the case of one abusing priest became public in 2010, he was “pressured” to take sole responsibility for the church’s failure to act, in order “to protect the pope”.

Lawyers commissioned by the Catholic archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine files from 1945-2019 identified 497 cases of clerical sexual abuse and 235 perpetrators – but said the true number is likely to be higher.


The report flagged four cases dating from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s time in Munich, from 1977-1982 and dismissed the 94-year-old’s claims not to be aware of the cases.

"Choosing my words carefully, we consider the information from Pope Benedict to be not credible," said one of the report's authors, Dr Ulrich Wastl. He said the report – running to nearly 2,000 pages with appendices – revealed a "shocking picture" of an institution that ignored victims of clerical sexual abuse, viewing those it did notice "as a danger for the institution".

Investigators identified 25 cases involving Joseph Ratzinger's successor as archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, and two cases in which they say the current archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, breached church rules and failed to report abusers to the Holy See.

‘Shaken and ashamed’

Cardinal Marx said the report had left him “shaken and ashamed”. He declined to attend the report’s presentation but will answer questions next Thursday.

Some 40 of the perpetrator priests identified were known to their superiors at the time of their abuse yet allowed to continue their pastoral work, with many moved to new parishes that were unaware of their behaviour.

Co-investigator Marion Westphal described a "terrible phenomenon of cover-up" and that, after years of investigation, the time of "individual guilt" had come.

Included in the report was an 82-page response to written questions by the retired pope. For clarification, the 94-year-old said he still had a good long-term memory so that, whenever he said 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 most damaging case involves a priest moved from the diocese of Essen to Munich-Freising in January 1980 for treatment for his paedophile tendencies.

More than two dozen men, in both dioceses, are on record as saying they were sexually abused as teenagers by the priest, identified only as Peter H, often after he gave them alcohol and showed them pornography.

In his evidence, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI said there was no mention of sexual abuse in the Essen diocese request to accept the priest in Bavaria for psychotherapy. “I had no knowledge about the history of the priest in his home diocese,” wrote the former pope.

When this case first came to light a decade ago, Munich and Rome moved quickly to insist Benedict, then still pope, had known nothing of the abuse during his time as archbishop.

Back in 2010 his former deputy in Munich, General Vicar Gerhard Gruber, accepted all responsibility for failing to act against the abusing priest.

In evidence for the new report, Fr Gruber says he was “pressured” in 2010 to take all the blame in one particularly grave case, “to protect the [German] pope”.

“I have no doubt, that Cardinal Ratzinger had the necessary information in the case,” he told investigators.

Germany's leading clerical abuse campaigner, Matthias Katsch, welcomed the report, saying: "We have just witnessed the collapse of the lies built around Pope Benedict."

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin