Benedict Denies German Report’s Accusation He Knew of Abuses as Archbishop of Munich

Report by Law Firm Shows 497 Cases of Child Sexual Abuse by Clerics from 1945 to 2019; Suggest 4 Happened When Ratzinger Led Archdiocese

70 Years of Faithfulness
Benedict XVI © Cathopic. Angelo Senchuke

A new report suggests that former Pope Benedict mishandled four abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977-1982 before being called to the Vatican to lead the Vatican’s Congregation for the Faith. He had sent an 82-page defense to the investigators compiling the more than 1,000 page report. The report compiled by a law firm in Germany, documented 497 cases from the period of 1945-2019 mishandled by the Archbishops of Munich and Freising. The report was presented during a press conference yesterday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Holy See Reaffirms Need to Protect Minors

The Vatican reacted yesterday with the Holy See Press Office Director, Matteo Bruni, telling journalists how the Holy See grieves for abuses in the Church, is close to victims, and needs time to examine the more than 1,000-page document.

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“The Holy See considers that appropriate attention should be paid to the document, whose contents are presently unknown,” he explained. “In coming days,” he added, “the Holy See will be able to give it a careful and detailed examination.”

“In reiterating shame and remorse for abuses committed by clerics against minors,” the Vatican spokesman underscored, “the Holy See expresses its closeness to all victims and reaffirms the efforts undertaken to protect minors and ensure safe environments for them.”

The report documents 497 cases of abuse against minors in the Archdiocese, 60 percent of whom were between the ages of 8 and 14.  Four of the cases, the law firm says, fall under Cardinal Ratzinger’s time as Archbishop, and deal with two priests who were sanctioned by courts but remained priests continuing pastoral duties, and a notorious Fr. Peter Hullermann, who had abused more than 20 children, for a period much longer than Ratzinger’s being Archbishop. Another two of the cases deemed mishandled in the report fall under Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s leadership, who became archbishop in 2007.

Benedict Always Close, Praying for Victims

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict’s personal secretary, told journalists yesterday that he had no knowledge of the content of the over 1,000-page report of the Westpfahl-Spilker-Wastl law firm, and that in the coming days, the former pope “will examine the text with the necessary attention.”

“The Pope Emeritus, as he has already repeated several times during the years of his pontificate, expresses his upset and shame for the clerical abuse of minors, and expresses his personal closeness and prayer for all the victims, some of whom he has met on the occasion of his apostolic journeys.”

However, the report also acknowledges that Ratzinger, once elected Pope, took measures in the fight against pedophilia in the Church.

Cardinal Ratzinger took the monumental move as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to change Church law to: establish a fast track of dismissal from the clerical state of those who abused children; to have all abuses under the age of 18 be treated as child sexual abuse; and to also hold accountable anyone who committed offences related to pedo-pornography.

The former Archbishop of Vienna, Han Hermann Groer, was accused of sexual abuse and Cardinal Ratzinger pressed John Paul II to investigate, leading to Groer’s resignation.

Vienna’s current archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, has said, Ratzinger “made entirely clear efforts not to cover things up but to tackle and investigate them…”

Benedict defrocked many priests for child sex abuse during his tenure as Pope, but in the last two years of his pontificate alone, he defrocked 400.

The words of Cardinal Ratzinger during the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in 2005, shortly before Pope John Paul II would die and he would be elected Pope, remain famous: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him! His betrayal by His disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces His heart.”

The Church’s Current Efforts to Ensure Child Safety, Move Past Scandals

The report reveals a sad chapter in the Church where abuses often went by unnoticed. Unfortunately, many countries have had to undergo moments of shock and crisis in order to change mentalities, institute guidelines and checks and balances, and protect victims. The United States and Ireland, for instance, are two good examples of nations that lived this reality.  Since the Dallas Charter and other guidelines were implemented, in recent years, the cases of abuse have decreased dramatically.

Pope Francis has vehemently called for all to combat clerical sexual abuse at all times, including the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who plenary assembly he addressed this morning in the Vatican, reminding: “The exercise of discernment, finds a field for its necessary application in the fight against abuses of every type.”

“The Church, with God’s help, is resolutely pursuing her commitment to bring justice to the victims of abuse by her members, applying with particular care and rigour the relevant canonical legislation,” he said, noting that with this in mind, he recently updated the Norms on offences reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “with the intention of making legal action more incisive.”

“Judicial action alone,” Pope Francis underscored, “cannot be sufficient to stem the phenomenon, but it is a necessary step towards re-establishing justice, repairing the scandal and emending the offender.”

Admitting and addressing sex abuse scandals by clerics, and even high-ranking cardinals or bishops, has been a sad chapter throughout Pope Francis’ pontificate. Even the Argentinian pope had to admit he made mistakes in trusting that some were being defamed, rather than guilty of coverup. However, collecting the proper information, the Pope later would accept the resignation of Bishop Barros of Osorno, Chile for his covering up for a predator priest.

Pope Francis called an unprecedented global Summit for the Protection of Minors in 2019, removed longtime powerful American cardinal, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s red hat and eventually priesthood, and issued a report to explore how he was able to rise up in the Church despite his squalid history and rumors known about him.

Moreover, he would issue the monumental Vos Estis Lux Mundi, to show that everyone is to be held accountable for abuse and for coverup, including bishops and cardinals, and called for vulnerable adults to be better taken into account. Also, he called on all appropriate Church bodies to cooperate with authorities, a first such request by a pope.