Hypocrisy of Benedict is writ large in 2010 letter to Irish Catholics

The former pope excoriated Irish bishops for their handling of abuse allegations

Last week a report by German investigators found it "overwhelmingly likely" that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was aware of at least four child abusing priests among his clergy while he was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

On top of this, his former deputy in the archdiocese, vicar general Gerhard Gruber, told investigators that, when the case of one abusing priest became public in 2010, he (Gruber) was "pressured" to take sole responsibility for the failure to act, in order "to protect the pope".

Benedict – cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – was pope from 2005 until he resigned in 2013.

The investigators, lawyers commissioned by the Catholic archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine its files from 1945 to 2019, dismissed the former pope's claims not to be aware of the four cases as "not credible". The Church in Munich and Freising ignored victims of clerical sexual abuse and saw those it did notice "as a danger for the institution", their report found.


This is the pope who in 2010 (the same year his former deputy covered up for him) excoriated Ireland’s Catholic bishops for their handling of clerical child sexual abuse allegations.

It followed publication of the Ryan report in May 2009 – which exposed the abuse of children in Irish orphanages, reformatories and industrial schools – and the Murphy report in November 2009, which exposed the mishandling of clerical child sexual abuse allegations in Dublin’s archdiocese.

‘Sense of betrayal’

In his 2010 pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland Benedict said: "I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them."

What had happened was due to “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person”.

He recalled how, in 2006, he had “asked the bishops of Ireland to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again”.

Addressing Ireland’s Catholic bishops directly in that 2010 letter, he said: “It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations.”

He continued: “It must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.”

None of this takes from the veracity of what Benedict wrote in 2010, just that he was not the one to write it. As has now been confirmed, his own hands were not clean

But the Irish Bishops had done even worse, he wrote. The handling of clerical child sexual abuse allegations by the Irish church authorities had “obscured the light of the Gospel” in Ireland “to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing”.

In other words, it had consequences which were worse than the Penal Laws.

In addition to that 2010 letter he sent high-powered delegations, led by cardinals, to investigate the Catholic Church in Ireland, its seminaries and its religious congregations.

None of which takes from the veracity of what Benedict wrote to the Catholics of Ireland in 2010, just that he was not the one to write it. As has now been confirmed, his own hands were not clean.

Kept secret

On top of which it was he who, in 2001, as dean of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote two letters in Latin (one instructing that both be kept secret) to every Catholic bishop in the world asking that they send him every credible clerical child sex abuse allegation they had on their files.

He received so many thousands of cases he asked the bishops to stop sending them to him, and to deal with such allegations locally.

Later, when he was pope, and the commission of investigation chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy asked the Vatican for access to files sent from two Irish dioceses, it was ignored. The commission was examining the handling of clerical child sexual abuse allegations in Dublin's archdiocese (report published in 2009) and Judge Murphy subsequently chaired a similar investigation into Cloyne diocese (report published in 2011).

In its 2009 report on Dublin, the commission concluded that over the investigation period there (from 1975 to 2004), “. . . the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important assets – the priests.”

Worse, it said, “. . . the welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages”.

Repeatedly, again and again throughout the Catholic world, wherever there have been independent inquiries into the Church’s handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations, the findings have been along the exact same lines: the institution and its priests come first.

Because that was policy in Rome. At a meeting with the Irish bishops in 1997 Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (until 2006), insisted it was Vatican policy to defend the rights of an accused priest above all and no allegations of clerical child sex abuse should be reported to the Garda or civil authorities in Ireland.

It remained Vatican policy well into the current pontificate of Pope Francis.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent