Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI is being sued by a 38-year-old German man who says he was groomed by a priest who came to the Munich archdiocese during the former pontiff’s time there as archbishop.
In the civil claim, filed at Traunstein regional court in Bavaria, the man – identified by the pseudonym Julian Schwarz – alleges Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger “was aware of all the circumstances” and “at least accepted the fact that this priest was a repeat offender”.
The priest arrived in Munich from western Germany in 1980 for treatment as a paedophile and was allowed work in several Bavarian parishes, where he reoffended.
Benedict has denied knowing anything about the priest’s background.
When he was 11 or 12 years old, the man said, the priest showed him pornography and sexually abused him – but that his mother did not believe him when he told her.
“The priest pretty much lulled the whole community to sleep and sold himself very well,” he told Die Zeit weekly. “These are cases out there that could have been prevented.”
After the abuse, the 38-year-old said he began to struggle in school, ran away from home and became a user of hard drugs.
He filed a criminal complaint against the priest in 2010, by now a convicted sex offender in Munich, but the public prosecutor did not proceed as the statute of limitations on the alleged offences had lapsed.
The man’s lawyer hopes move forward with a new civil action, demanding the Bavarian court retrospectively determine whether the perpetrator – and his superiors in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising – have responsibility for the priest’s actions and the resulting sexual abuse.
“The plaintiff is not primarily concerned with money, but rather with establishing that what happened was wrong,” said Andreas Schulz, the man’s lawyer.
In his filing, the lawyer draws on January’s Munich clerical abuse report which found that Benedict and his successor, Friedrich Wetter, were both aware of the priest’s paedophile past.
A spokeswoman for the Bavarian regional court in Traunstein said it was examining the filing but could not say yet if and when it would come to a hearing.
The Munich law office that researched and wrote last January’s abuse report collated 497 cases of sexual abuse in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. It flagged with the city’s public prosecutor cases it believes require closer examination, including cases involving the retired pope. The prosecutor’s office has yet to make a decision on those cases.
Leading Catholic clerical sexual abuse survivors said they were optimistic that the case would throw further light on the issue.
“I wish the plaintiff success in his case,” said Richard Kick, a member of a Munich survivor organisation. “There is no one we cannot sue.”
At a weekend event to mark the retired pontiff’s 95th birthday, his personal assistant Georg Gänswein said recent accusations against him had “sapped his strength, but he has an unbroken sense of humour”.