VATICAN CITY (VATICAN CITY)
Crux [Denver CO]
February 8, 2022
By Elise Ann Allen
After a recent report into the handling of clerical abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Munich faulted him in four separate cases, retired pope Benedict XVI has denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying he was unaware of the abusive behavior at the time he was making decisions.
On Jan. 20 the Archdiocese of Munich, led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1977 to 1982, issued a highly anticipated report into its handling of clerical abuse cases, finding that 497 people had been abused in the Munich archdiocese from 1945 to 2019.
The report, conducted by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm, was commissioned by the archdiocese in February 2020 and identifies some 235 perpetrators of abuse, including 173 priests, 9 deacons, 5 pastoral workers, and 48 individuals in Catholic schools.
Benedict XVI, who briefly led the archdiocese before being named prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later elected pope, was among the high-profile Church leaders covered in the report.
The Munich report found that on three occasions then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger failed to act appropriately, accusing him of covering up for abuser priests and allowing them to continue to hold assignments. A fourth case that called his actions into question was also covered in the report, but investigators cleared him of wrongdoing.
After the report’s release, Benedict XVI said he would issue a formal response to the report after making a full analysis of the nearly 2,000 pages contained in the report.
In his response, published Feb. 8 and drafted on his behalf by four German lawyers and jurists, Benedict responded to four claims the report made about his handling of cases while serving as archbishop of Munich, the first of which was that contrary to a written testimony provided to investigators for the report, he had been present at a Jan. 15, 1980, meeting in which “Priest X” was discussed.
The report also claims that then-Cardinal Ratzinger had employed the priest in pastoral activity despite his awareness of abuses, therefore covering up sexual abuse.
Benedict’s response refutes this claim, insisting that he “was neither aware that Priest X was an abuser nor that he was included in pastoral activity.”
Regarding his presence at the meeting, Benedict released a statement shortly after the report was published saying his statement that he was not present at the 1980 meeting discussing “Priest X” was incorrect, and was a mistake related to a transcription error by one of the people assisting him in compiling his testimony for the report.
In his formal response Tuesday, Benedict noted that during the 1980 meeting, it was decided not to engage Priest X in pastoral activity, and that the meeting “did not discuss the fact that the priest had committed sexual abuse,” but was “exclusively a question of the accommodation of the young Priest X in Munich because he had to undergo therapy there.”
“This request was complied with,” he said, insisting that “During the meeting the reason for the therapy was not mentioned” and it was therefore “not decided at the meeting to engage the abuser in pastoral work.”
Benedict also denied the claim that he perjured himself by lying about his presence at the Jan. 15, 1980, meeting, explaining that while his previous statement that he did not attend it was in fact incorrect, he “did not lie or knowingly make a false statement.”
The retired pontiff explained that in drafting his formal testimony for the report, he was assisted by a team of collaborators who examined the documents and who were called in because Benedict “could not analyze the mass of issues on his own in a short period of time and because the law firm in charge of the expert report asked questions that referred to canon law, so that a framework in canon law was necessary for the answer.”
One collaborator made a “transcription error,” Benedict said, and based on this error in the transcript, “it was assumed instead that Joseph Ratzinger had not been present.”
“Benedict XVI, due to the great haste with which he had to verify his memory in a few days, given the time limits imposed by the experts, did not notice the error, but trusted the alleged transcription of his absence,” the response said, insisting that “One cannot impute this transcription error to Benedict XVI as a conscious false statement or ‘lie.’”
Benedict also rejected the claim that he mishandled three other cases and would have known the priests were abusers prior to making decisions.
“In none of the cases analyzed by the expert report was Joseph Ratzinger aware of sexual abuse committed or suspicion of sexual abuse committed by priests. The expert report provides no evidence to the contrary,” Benedict’s response said.
In regard to “Priest X” and the 1980 meeting about the accommodation to be given to him for therapy, Benedict notes that “the same expert – in the press conference of [Jan. 20, 2022] on the occasion of the presentation of the abuse report – stated that there is no evidence that Joseph Ratzinger was aware of it.”
The journalist’s question, which takes place at minute 2:03:46 of the press conference, on whether investigators were able to prove Ratzinger had been aware that “Priest X” committed abuse, the expert responding clearly stated that there is no evidence that Joseph Ratzinger had knowledge. Only in the subjective opinion of the expert witnesses would it be ‘more likely,’” Benedict’s response said.
“The expert report contains no evidence for an allegation of misconduct or conspiracy in any coverup. As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse,” he said.
Benedict also responded to the claim that he downplayed acts of exhibitionism, citing a statement from Benedict in his testimony that, “Priest X was noted as an exhibitionist, but not as an abuser in the proper sense.”
Benedict denied this claim, insisting that he did not “minimize the exhibitionist behavior” in his testimony, “but expressly condemned it” and that “the phrase used as alleged evidence of minimizing exhibitionism is taken out of context.”
This is obvious, Benedict said, from the fact that in his written testimony, he described abuses, including exhibitionism, as ‘terrible,’ ‘sinful,’ ‘morally reprehensible,’ and ‘irreparable.’
The statement cited by investigators, he said, was included only out of “a desire to recall that according to the canon law then in force, exhibitionism was not a crime in the restricted sense, because the relevant penal norm did not include in the case in point behavior of that type.”
In a letter accompanying his formal response to the Munich report, Benedict thanked all those who helped him answer investigators, read the report, and compile his responses.
Referring to the mistake in his testimony about his presence at the 1980 meeting regarding “Priest X,” Benedict said it was “proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar.”
“At the same time, I have been greatly moved by the varied expressions of trust, the heartfelt testimonies and the moving letters of encouragement sent to me by so many persons,” he said, saying he is especially grateful “for the confidence, support and prayer that Pope Francis personally expressed to me.”
Benedict then said that he had a “confession” to make, reflecting on how the celebration of Mass begins with a confession of sins and a petition for God to forgive “our fault, through our most grievous fault.”
“It is clear to me that the words ‘most grievous’ do not apply each day and to every person in the same way. Yet every day they do cause me to question if today too I should speak of a most grievous fault,” he said.
These words, Benedict said, also “tell me with consolation that however great my fault may be today, the Lord forgives me, if I sincerely allow myself to be examined by him, and I am really prepared to change.”
Referring to the meetings he held with abuse survivors during his pontificate, Benedict said he was able to see “a most grievous fault” first-hand during these encounters, and that as a result, “I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen.”
“Once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” he said, noting that he has held positions of great authority in the Catholic Church, and that because of this, “all the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”
“Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable,” he said, adding, “The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy and I feel great sorrow for each individual case.”
Benedict, 94, noted that given his advanced age, “I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” and that while he has “great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer.”
“I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my Paraclete,” he said.
“In light of the hour of judgement, the grace of being a Christian becomes all the more clear to me. It grants me knowledge, and indeed friendship, with the judge of my life, and thus allows me to pass confidently through the dark door of death,” Benedict said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen