German clerical abuse survivors welcome criticism of former pope

Irish Times [Dublin, Ireland]

January 20, 2022

By Derek Scally

Report says Benedict failed to tackle four abusing priests while archbishop of Munich

Survivors of Catholic clerical sexual abuse in Germany have welcomed a report accusing former pope Benedict XVI of protecting perpetrator priests as “the collapse of a monument”.

The report, published on Thursday and running to nearly 2,000 pages, says the 94-year-old former pontiff failed to tackle four abusing priests during his time as archbishop of Munich, and it questioned his assertion that he did not know about the abuse.

In testimony to investigators, his former deputy in Munich, Fr Gerhard Gruberm, said he was “pressured” to take responsibility for one abuse case when it first emerged in 2010, “to protect the [then] pope [Benedict]”.

“This tower of lies, erected to protect cardinal Ratzinger, pope Benedict, has today come crashing down,” said Matthias Katsch of Germany’s Eckiger Tisch survivors’ group.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI said on Thursday he would respond after the reading the document, which includes his 82-page written response to questions. 

In this he denies all knowledge of abuse by priests during his four years as archbishop until 1982, when he moved to Rome, and expressed “fundamental doubt” about the legal basis of the claims against him.

‘Pain and shame’

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s private secretary, told Vatican News the former pope “expresses his pain and shame for the abuses of minors committed by priests”.

In a two-hour presentation on Thursday, lawyers commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising said they had identified 497 cases, including the four arising from the former pope’s time as archbishop of Munich.

“Two of these cases concern abuses committed during his tenure and sanctioned by the state,” said Dr Martin Pusch, one of the investigators for the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm. “In both cases, the perpetrators remained active in pastoral care.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich, said he was “shaken and ashamed” by the report, which accuses him of failing to report two abusing priests to Rome. 

A Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis would “study closely” the long-awaited report, which has sent shockwaves through the Catholic church in Germany.

Germany’s federal child abuse commissioner Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig accused German Catholic bishops of a “shameful half-hearted” attempt to “administrate away sexual abuse”.