Benedict Admits Being at Meeting About Priest Accused of Abuse

New York Times [New York NY]

January 24, 2022

By Elisabetta Povoledo and Gaia Pianigiani

A statement by the former pope contradicted a previous statement to a law firm investigating allegations of child sex abuse by priests when he was an archbishop.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said Monday he had been at a 1980 meeting at which the case of a priest accused of pedophilia had been discussed, contradicting a previous statement made to a law firm investigating how allegations of clerical sexual abuse had been handled in the archdiocese of Munich and Freiburg between 1945 and 2019.

Benedict — then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — was Archbishop of Munich and Freiburg and in charge of its clerics between 1977 and 1982.

Last week, the law firm conducting the investigation, Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, issued a report that found, among other things, that Benedict had mishandled four cases in which priests were accused of sexual abuse.

At a news conference presenting the findings of the report Thursday, a representative of the law firm said Benedict had denied being at one meeting at which the case of a priest who had been sent to Munich from the diocese of Essen to receive treatment had been discussed, even though minutes of the meeting showed he had been present.

On Monday, Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, issued a statement saying that, upon reading the findings of the report, the retired pope had been present at the meeting in question “contrary to what was stated.” Archbishop Gänswein said Benedict had called his previous assertion about the meeting “objectively false,” and that it was not made in “bad faith” but was the result of a mistake in the editing process of an 82-page statement provided to the lawyers.

In Monday’s statement, Benedict, 94, apologized for the error but maintained that, while he had been present at that meeting, “the pastoral assignment of the priest in question was not decided at this meeting.”

In the original statement responding to questions by the lawyers conducting the investigation, Benedict had said he did not know that the priest in question had been accused of sex abuse against minors, and that the documents seeking his transfer to Munich only mentioned health-related issues that required psychotherapy. The priest was described as “very gifted,” and could have been assigned to different tasks, Benedict said.

The transfer request from Essen mentioned that the priest had been “immediately taken out of pastoral care” because of a report coming from the parish community, but did not provide further details or mention suspicions of sexual abuse. Benedict added that he had no memory of being informed about what role the new priest was going to take.

The priest was in fact allowed to return to pastoral work a few weeks after his arrival in Munich, and in 1986 he was convicted of sexually abusing minors in the diocese of Essen and given an 18-month suspended sentence with five years of probation. When news of the case made headlines, in 2010, the archdiocese said the decision to let the priest reassume his duties had been made by Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy in Munich.

Archbishop Gänswein said Benedict had been reading the report, which runs to some 1,900 pages, since receiving it on Thursday, but that it would “take time to read it completely” because of Benedict’s “age and health.” He said Benedict would comment on the report once he had finished reading it.

Archbishop Gänswein said the contents of the report had filled Benedict with “shame and pain” for the suffering caused to victims, and expressed closeness to his home dioceses, “in particular to the victims who had to experience abuse and indifference.”

Elisabetta Povoledo has been writing about Italy for nearly three decades, and has been working for The Times and its affiliates since 1992. @EPovoledo • Facebook

Gaia Pianigiani is a reporter based in Italy for The New York Times.  @gaia_pianigiani