German prosecutors examined late pope in abuse probe

Associated Press [New York NY]

March 21, 2023

By Associated Press

German prosecutors looking into historical cases of sexual abuse by clergy in the Munich archdiocese said Tuesday that they initially investigated the late Pope Benedict XVI on suspicion of being an accessory to abuse, but later dropped the probe.

Munich prosecutors examined 45 cases of possible wrongdoing by church officials that arose from a report into how the archdiocese handled abuse cases between 1945 and 2019.

The then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop there from 1977-1982, and the report by a law firm commissioned by the archdiocese and released in January 2022 faulted his handling of four cases during that time. Benedict, who died in December nearly 10 years after his retirement as pope, asked forgiveness for any “grievous faults” in his handling of abuse cases, but denied any personal or specific wrongdoing.

Prosecutors said that that “three (at the time) living church personnel managers” were listed as suspects for a time during their investigation, German news agency dpa reported. They were Benedict; Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, his successor in Munich who served from 1982 to 2008; and Gerhard Gruber, a former vicar general.

They said that all the proceedings were dropped over time because they failed to turn up a “sufficient suspicion of criminal action” by the three. In the two cases in which Ratzinger’s possible involvement was looked at, that was because they fell under the statute of limitations, as did any possible accusations of being an accessory, dpa reported.

As a cardinal in Rome and as pope, Benedict did more than anyone before him to turn the Vatican around on clergy sexual abuse, pushing through revolutionary changes to church law to make it easier to defrock predator priests, but much more remained to be done.