Benedict accused of ‘misconduct’ in Munich abuse report

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

January 20, 2022

By Madoc Cairns

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is among three senior German clerics implicated in misconduct by a landmark report into clerical sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich. The former Pope is accused of failing to take action in four cases of alleged sexual abuse when he was Archbishop of Munich by a new report launched today, 20 January.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the present Archbishop, is accused of inaction in two such cases and Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, his predecessor, is accused in 21 cases.

The investigation, carried out by Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), identified 497 victims of abuse in the archdiocese, although researchers warned that more victims may not have reported their abuse.

Pope Benedict XVI, then Joseph Ratzinger, was Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982, during which time, the report alleges, he responded with inaction to the abuse of minors by clerics under his authority.

“In a total of four cases, we came to the conclusion that the then-archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger, can be accused of misconduct,” one of the report’s lawyers, Martin Pusch, said. Two cases involved clerics who abused while he was in office but allowed to perform pastoral duties within the Archdiocese without canonical action being taken. Later, the clerics in question received criminal sentences from secular authorities. In a third case, a cleric with criminal convictions for abuse outside of Germany was transferred to Munich, and, Pusch said, the evidence suggests Benedict knew of the priest’s previous behaviour.

Richard Scorer, a high-profile lawyer specialising in abuse law, who represented a number of abuse victims in the UK’s Independent Enquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said: “Pope Benedict was as complicit as other senior Catholics in covering up abuse scandals in his own backyard. Direct papal responsibility for the Catholic church’s failings is now plain to see.” In order to stop this kind of misconduct continuing, he added, it was necessary to introduce mandatory reporting laws, “so that those who cover up abuse can be held to be criminally liable.”

WSW previously prepared a report on abuse for the Archdiocese of Cologne, the publication of which was halted by the local Cardinal, Rainer Maria Woelki, on “methodological grounds”.

A later report by a different law firm caused serious damage to the Church’s reputation, although it exonerated Woelki of criminal wrongdoing. Repeated revelations of clerical abuse in Germany have prompted the departure of thousands of laity and the weakening of the Church’s moral authority in nation where it remains the single largest faith group. In 2018, a church-commissioned report concluded that at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said: “The Holy See believes it has an obligation to give serious attention to the document” on cases of abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, but it has not yet had a chance to study it. “In the coming days, following its publication, the Holy See will review it and will be able to properly examine its details. Reiterating its sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path taken to protect the youngest, ensuring safe environments for them,” Bruni said.

Benedict XVI’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, said the retired Pope will study the Munich abuse report and that he “expresses his shock and shame at the abuse of minors committed by clerics” and “his personal closeness and prayer for all the victims”.