German cardinal ‘has no reason to doubt’ Munich clerical abuse report

Former pope Benedict denies links with abusing priests, flagged by Munich law firm

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, addresses a press conference in Munich. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/Pool/AFP via Getty

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, addresses a press conference in Munich. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/Pool/AFP via Getty

 

German cardinal Reinhard Marx has said he has “no reason to doubt” last week’s report into clerical sexual abuse in the Munich archdiocese, which established links between abusing priests and former pope Benedict XVI.

At a press conference in Munich, Cardinal Marx apologised to almost 500 survivors of clerical sexual abuse uncovered in the report for the “disaster” visited on them by his church between 1945 and 2019.

He said the 1,900-page report held up a mirror to a clerical church that for abuse survivors “was a place of harm and not of comfort”.

“The greatest guilt is to have overlooked their pain, that is unforgivable,” he said. “There was no real interest in their fate, their pain and, in my opinion, this has systemic reasons.”

Cardinal Marx said it was “asking too much” to expect him to take sides in a dispute between lawyers he commissioned to study the diocese’s past, and the former pope, who served as Munich archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

From studying diocesan archives and 56 interviews, a Munich law firm flagged four cases of abusing priests with links to the former pope – claims the former pope strenuously denies.

Cardinal Marx said he accepts that Benedict “interprets the facts differently” and will wait for a statement from the retired pope on the report’s claims against him.

“This report is not a court ruling or historical judgment, it is an important building block,” he said. “I have no reason at all to doubt the seriousness and care of the legal firm. We are getting closer to the truth but I am not sure if you can find absolute truth in a report or press article.”

Ratzinger’s ‘oversight’

In written testimony to investigators, the former pope denied knowing about four problematic priests in his diocese, including an exhibitionist who masturbated before children and another who took photographs of young girls.

However, he was forced to correct his testimony in the case of one paedophile priest, transferred in 1980 from Essen to Munich for psychotherapy, who resumed abusing children there.

Investigators dismissed as “not credible” the retired pope’s denial that, as Archbishop Ratzinger, he attended a key meeting in 1980 that discussed the priest’s transfer to Munich. When they produced minutes of the meeting proving his presence, the former pope conceded his initial denial was “objectively wrong” but was an “oversight”.

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.

These claims are contested by his former deputy in Munich, who said Archbishop Ratzinger was aware of the priest’s past, and that he was later “pressured” to take sole responsibility and protect the pope.

‘No alternative’

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

The Munich investigators agree that it is “overwhelmingly likely” Archbishop Ratzinger was aware of this and other abusing priests – some of whom went on to abuse for many years after he left for Rome in 1982.

“His conviction that anything of which he has no memory did not happen,” the report said, “seems to the investigators as neither credible nor sound”.

The former pope has promised to issue a statement after reading the report.

Survivor representatives present at Thursday’s press conference said they were “cautiously optimistic” that the current Munich archdiocese leadership was serious about dealing with the past.

“Cardinal Marx criticises the clerical culture and admits he is part of it, but he is missing something; he struggles to feel the pain of others,” said Richard Kick, abused as an eight year-old by a priest. “But we need him; there is no alternative to him.”