‘Attacks on Benedict Not Justified’, States Dr. Michael Hesemann

In Exclusive Interview, German Church Expert, Historian and Scholar Analyzes German Abuse Report Faulting Ratzinger

Attacks on Benedict Not Justified
Benedict XVI © Vatican Media

‘Not justified!’ This is how Dr. Michael Hesemann, German Church expert, author, and scholar, describes all the recent attacks on Pope Emeritus Benedict following a German law firm’s report claiming he mishandled four cases of abuse during his time as Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

Benedict has categorically denied all wrongdoing.

In an exclusive interview with Exaudi, Dr. Hesemann explains the report, the claims, and whether they have any legitimacy. Moreover, the historian candidly discusses how Ratzinger, once leading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later, as Pope, would work to tackle child sex abuse by clerics in the Catholic Church.

Here is our conversation:


EXAUDI: Dr. Hesemann, the new report contains disturbing information about abuse of 497 children in the Archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Have you seen it? 

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Yes, of course. You can find the whole 1893 pages online, but unfortunately only in German. But since I am German, it was not a problem for me to read it.

EXAUDI: Have you seen where it speaks about this alleged mishandling by Cardinal Ratzinger when serving as Archbishop of Munich?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: I read both, the 72 pages referring to the 5 years when Cardinal Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich and Freising (1977-1982), as well as his 88-page reply to the questions of the investigators.

EXAUDI: What is said? Is it legitimate?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: First of all, there is a tremendous discrepancy between the report itself on one hand and the press conference and its international coverage on the other. This is significant, because every journalist who reported about the Munich press conference, admitted that he or she hasn’t read the report yet. Of course not, since no one can read 1893 pages in one day! So every headline was based on what was said on the press conference, but this actually was just a biased and malevolent interpretation with no backing by the facts as presented in the report. So most of what you have heard during the last two days was just fake news, based on a deliberate misinformation of the media.

As we all know, the media stir concentrated on Pope Benedict XVI, although he is not the main subject of the report at all. The report deals with cases of sexual misuse of minors from 1945 until 2019, in 74 years, not the 5 years of Archbishop Ratzinger. It deals with 65 cases, only four of them connected to Ratzinger. If you study those cases, Ratzinger is just a side figure, someone who did not play a major roll at all in what has happened, but everyone concentrates on him. To put him into the limelight is, of course, an easy way to cover up the misconduct of several of his successors, especially Cardinal Marx, who is Archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008.

So let’s have a look at those four cases and how Ratzinger dealt with them.

EXAUDI: Yes, could you please elaborate on the cases?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: If you study them, you will be very surprised that there was no victim in any of those four cases, at least not during Ratzinger’s term as Archbishop. In none of the four cases, a priest was accused of any sexual activity with a minor or an adult, a boy or a girl during those 5 years! That’s a very important fact since it is generally claimed that the Church turns a blind eye on the victims. In the report are no names (even in Benedict’s reply, the names are blackened out), but the notorious Fr. Peter Hullermann is the exhibitionist in the second case.

Let’s begin by speaking about the first case. In that case, a priest, who was sent abroad after a sexual misconduct in the past and being sentenced to a prison term, was allowed by Ratzinger to return in his home diocese for retirement. Since this priest just wanted to retire, it was a human act of grace to allow him to die in his home country. Still, the report says that the General Vicariate – not Ratzinger! – sent him a form letter, accepting his retirement, and titled him as “pastor” (“Pfarrer”). The investigators claim that “pastor” is a honorific title, granted to him by Archbishop Ratzinger, which is just nonsense. “Pastor” is a not a honorific title at all, such as “Monsignore”, “Prelate” etc. Ratzinger shouldn’t be blamed for this, because it was the General Vicariate who accepted his retirement, and who called him ‘pastor.’

In the second case, a priest from another diocese was found guilty, in his Diocese of Essen, of child molestation when he was drunk, and was sent by his bishop to the Archdiocese of Munich for a psychiatric treatment. Though there are no names in the report, here we speak clearly about the notorious Fr. Peter Hullermann whose name we have been hearing so often. This child molestation in his home diocese of Essen happened prior to Ratzinger’s term as Archbishop of Munich, and therefore out of his responsibility. Another time, another diocese! Hullerman was sent by his bishop for a psychiatric treatment in the diocese of Munich. At that time, it was generally believed that sexual perversion were curable. Since Hullerman acted under the influence of alcohol, the question is if anyone in Munich was aware that he was pedophile or if they just considered him an alcoholic with psychiatric problems. During the treatment he was allowed to stay in the pastorate of the place of his treatment and the local pastor engaged him in several activities. Benedict assures that he was not informed about the background of this man, that he molested children in his home diocese, and there is no evidence for the contrary!

EXAUDI: So Ratzinger hadn’t known that Hullerman’s transfer was because of child molestation?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: No, he clearly states he did not know and we have no reason to question his statement.. This priest, Fr. Hullerman, got very popular quickly, and never performed any misconduct during his service. When he was found to have gotten involved in an act of exhibitionism, he was sentenced by court and removed from the parish service, to find a job as a teacher in a private school. It is important to clarify the school was a private economy school and had nothing to do with the Church.

Fr. Hullerman’s act of exhibition, was essentially him revealing himself in a public place, outside of the parish, where he was not recognizable as a priest and nobody from his parish was witness.  He was allowed to continue his psychiatric treatment without any activity in the local parish, at least under Ratzinger. So here we have no act of pedophilia, no case of sexual molestation, no victim in Ratzinger’s term. All accusations just concentrate on the question why Ratzinger allowed a man, whose past he was unaware of, undergo psychiatric treatment and stay in a pastorate.

EXAUDI: Does the report show evidence that Ratzinger did instead know the background of Fr. Hullerman?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Absolutely not! The report does not present any such evidence. In Benedict’s own statement, he denies knowing the background of this priest, Fr. Hullermann, and there is no evidence at all that he ever did. And still, it was this case which got the most widespread media attention!

EXAUDI: What did the third case involve?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: In the third case, a bishop from another country asked Cardinal Ratzinger if he would allow his nephew, a priest, to continue his studies and dissertation in Munich, which Ratzinger allowed. What he did not know was that the young priest was already sentenced in his home country for sexual misconduct. During his studies, he served as a chaplain in the University parish and was seen swimming naked in the local river, the Isar. Well, I myself lived in Munich for three years and I can assure you that it is quite a common thing there, although not for a young priest, of course. But, once again, no victim! Anyway, the young priest was immediately removed from his parish and eventually sent home. Again, Ratzinger is blamed for allowing this young man to study in Munich, claiming that “he must have known” about his past. I find it more plausible to assume that his uncle did not tell Ratzinger about it…

EXAUDI: For this young priest, doesn’t the recent report show Ratzinger reacted?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Absolutely! The young priest did nothing illegal, but compromising. And immediately Ratzinger reacted, removed him and sent him home! Just as a preventive measure! But still they claim he must have known about his past, which is absurd and backed by no evidence at all.

EXAUDI: Does the report show any steps Benedict did take to combat the abuse in the Archdiocese?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Yes, the last of the four cases deals with a priest who took photos of minor girls getting dressed for a theater play. When he was sentenced and Ratzinger learned about it, he removed him from his parish and deployed him in a hospital and senior citizen’s home. Just because this priest showed pedophile tendencies and should not have any contact to minors! Still, the investigators accuse Ratzinger of “a lack of interest” in the case. Their claim is just the opposite of what we learn from the case itself.

Still, as you see, sexual abuse was not a major problem during his five years in Munich. We do not have a single case where any minor or adult became sexually molested. And we have an Archbishop Ratzinger, who immediately took preventive measures.

EXAUDI: Let’s turn to once Benedict left Munich, what were some of his most important steps against abuse while leading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Yes, the report blamed Ratzinger for not reporting those four cases to Rome. But in fact, this was not the modus operandi during the 1970s. Only when Ratzinger became Prefect of the CDF in 1982, he included the Instruction Crimen sollicitationis of 1922 into the reformed Codex of the Canon Law (CiC) of 1983. Still, it took until the mid-1990s until dioceses actually followed this instruction, because Ratzinger insisted on it. Before, those cases were just covered up by the local bishops. After the Second Vatican Council, the principle was that the bishop should “heal, not punish”; those who acted otherwise were considered as too rigid and intolerant. Only when cases of misuse created a scandal in the US, the American bishops asked Ratzinger if they should discipline pedophile priests internally or get law enforcement involved.

When Pope John Paul II feared a political misuse of cases, it was Ratzinger who demanded uncompromised clarification and persecution. Indeed, in 2001 he convinced the Pope to promulgate stricter rules. In his instruction “De delictis gravioribus“, he obliged the duty to report those cases to the law enforcement authorities according to the national laws – immediately, not after a canonical process! A year later, John Paul II ordered 13 American bishops to Rome to inform them about the new “zero tolerance policy” of the Holy See.

EXAUDI: In 2010, Pope Benedict took enormous steps to combat pedophilia in the Church, didn’t he?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Absolutely. From the beginning of his pontificate, he enforced this “zero tolerance policy”, even in a prominent case as that of Fr. Marcial Maciel Delgado. In 2010, when it became known that his instructions were ignored by several bishops, he enforced even stricter ones. The period of limitation was prolonged from 10 to 20 years, for example. Severe cases had to be reported to the Pope himself, who would remove them from the clergy.  Furthermore, he instructed the seminaries to chose the candidates with greater care and to refuse men with pedophile or homosexual tendencies. Any cover-up was declared “absolutely inacceptable” by Benedict XVI.

EXAUDI: Even with getting the former Archbishop of Vienna, Stephen Groer, to resign after he was accused of child sex abuse?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Absolutely. He played a great role.

EXAUDI: Didn’t Benedict also remove from the clerical state many priests as Pope?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: Yes, to set an example and end this “perversion of priesthood,” as he called it, he laicized nearly 400 pedophile priests.

EXAUDI: His famous words about the ‘filth within the Church’ during the 2005 Via Crucis before he would be elected pope, shortly before John Paul II’s passing, will never be forgotten.  What were some of the most significant ways he showed and expressed disgust for this filth?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: On his way to Fatima, in the Papal flight, he stated that “the most severe persecution of the Church does not come from its outside enemies, but grows from the sin within the Church”. And in his letter to a German Catholic Gathering, he advised the bishops and the faithful, to “pull out any weed,” especially “in the midst of the Church and among its servants.” During the “Year of the Priest” in 2010, he told his biographer, Peter Seewald, that it was supposed to become “a year of purification, of an inner renewal, of change and penance” for the priesthood. No Pope before and after him acted and spoke as strong to fight the “filth within the Church,” the pestilence of priestly pedophilia and abuse! And not only that, he was the first Pope who met the victims of priestly abusers on several occasions in nearly every country he visited and demanded an adequate compensation for the suffering inflicted on them, even if it caused severe financial problems in several dioceses.

EXAUDI: Are you concerned that in this interview someone will say that you express your responses in a certain way because you are close with the family?

DR. MICHAEL HESEMANN: You do not have to be close to his family (and in my case to his late brother) to read the official report with care, recognize bias and see the discrepancy between the reported and known facts, the claims of the investigators and the even bigger and more absurd claims during the Munich press conference. Are these four cases strong enough to compromise Joseph Ratzinger’s life’s work? Surely not!

Once again: There are no victims, there were no cases of sexual molestation during his term as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Not a single one. In just two cases, the question is how well he was informed beforehand about the past of two priests from foreign dioceses, one even in another country. He says he did not know the details in question and there is no evidence that he did. In dubio pro reo is a universal principle and a Pope is no exemption from it.

None of the latest attacks against Benedict XVI are justified, because they are not based on any facts, but just on bias, slander and distortions. At best, the four cases reveal that the Church has become more sensitive in dealing with abuse, and that’s a good thing. But that, as I have already said, was the work of Benedict XVI. All the more absurd, all the more perfidious it is now to place the man who was responsible for the clean-up in one corner with those responsible for the cover-ups!

I can only invite everyone to read the original report cum grano salis, with the necessary skepticism. Anyone looking for evidence, clues or even hard facts that could convict the Ratzinger Pope of lying will be disappointed very quickly. There are circles in Germany who want a different Church, an anthropocentric Church, more protestant, more “open to the world.” For them, Pope Benedict is a symbol, a symbol for the “old”, theocentric Church. This is why they try everything to slander him, to discredit him and everything he taught us as theologian, bishop, cardinal, Prefect of the CDF and Pope. It is not at all about those four cases, but about him and his teachings. So for them, he’s the perfect scapegoat. They can distract all attention upon him.

EXAUDI: Thank you, Dr. Hesemann.