A bombshell report has accused former Pope Benedict of misconduct over his handling of four cases of sexual abuse by priests while he was an archbishop in Germany.
The report, by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, found Benedict had twice allowed perpetrators who were punished by the judicial system to continue pastoral work without express limits on what they were allowed to do and failed to discipline them under canon law.
In a third case, he allegedly allowed a cleric who had been convicted by a court outside Germany to be put into service in the Munich archdiocese despite being aware of the priest’s history.
Benedict, who served as the archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, also approved the transfer of a suspected paedophile priest to the archdiocese to undergo therapy in 1980.
The prelate was allowed to resume pastoral work, a decision that the church said was made by a lower-ranking official without consulting the archbishop. In 1986, the priest received a suspended sentence for molesting a boy.
The law firm, which was commissioned to draw up the report by the Munich archdiocese nearly two years ago, said that Benedict – whose civilian name is Josef Ratzinger – strongly denies any wrongdoing.
The Vatican today repeated its ‘shame and remorse’ for child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, after the release of the report which was commissioned in 2018 with a mandate to look into abuse between 1945 and 2019 and whether church officials handled allegations correctly.
The Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni today emphasised that it must still examine the report, ‘the contents of which are not currently known, but reiterated the Vatican’s ‘sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics.’
During Benedict’s time as archbishop, a now-notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.
Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history, which the report said Benedict was aware of.
In 1986, by which time Ratzinger had been transferred to the Vatican, he was convicted of molesting more children and given a suspended prison sentence.
Even after the conviction, he continued to work with children for many years and his case is regarded as a pertinent example of the mishandling of abuse by the Church.
Benedict, 94, in 2013 became the first pope ever to step down from the role in 600 years and now lives a secluded life in a former convent inside the grounds of the Vatican.
He provided an 82-page statement in response to questions from WSW, according to German media reports.
The pope emeritus ‘takes the fates of the abuse victims very much to heart’ and is fully ‘in favour of the publication of the Munich report’, his spokesman Georg Gaenswein told the Bild daily.
The reformist Catholic group ‘Wir sind Kirche’ (We are Church) called on the ex-pontiff to take responsibility for what happened while he was in charge of the Munich diocese.
‘An admission by Ratzinger that through his actions or inactions, knowledge or ignorance, he was personally and professionally complicit in the suffering of many young people would be… an example for many other bishops and responsible persons,’ it said in a statement.
The report also faulted the current archbishop, a prominent ally of Pope Francis, in two cases.
The archdiocese and the law firm said that top church officials were informed of the results ahead of its publication. The archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, declined an invitation to attend the presentation.
In an extraordinary gesture last year, Marx offered to resign over the Catholic Church’s ‘catastrophic’ mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases, declaring that the scandals had brought the church to ‘a dead-enddead-end.’
Francis swiftly rejected the offer but said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the ‘catastrophe’ of the abuse crisis.
In 2018, a church-commissioned report concluded that at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014.
More than half of the victims were 13 or younger, and nearly a third served as altar boys. However, the real number of victims is thought to be much higher.
In recent months, turbulence in the Cologne archdiocese over officials’ handling of abuse allegations has convulsed the German church.
A report last year found that the archbishop of Hamburg, a former Cologne church official, neglected his duty in several cases in handling such allegations, but Francis rejected his resignation offer.
That report cleared Cologne’s archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, of wrongdoing. But Woelki’s handling of the issue infuriated many Catholics.
He had kept under wraps the first report on church officials’ actions, drawn up by the same firm that produced the Munich report, citing legal concerns.
In September, the pope gave Woelki a several-month ‘spiritual timeout’ after what the Vatican called ‘major errors’ of communication.
Marx, a reformist who sits on powerful financial and political committees at the Vatican, has been the archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008.
The abuse scandal has thwarted the Catholic Church’s efforts to spearhead broad reforms in Germany.
It counted 22.2 million members in 2020 and is still the largest religion in the country, but the number is 2.5 million fewer than in 2010 when the first major wave of paedophile abuse cases came to light.
Payouts for victims of abuse were increased in 2020 to up to 50,000 euros ($56,700), from around 5,000 euros previously, but campaigners say the sum is still inadequate.
Ahead of the publication of the Munich report, the Eckiger Tisch victims’ group called for ‘compensation instead of hollow words.
‘Far too many children and young people have fallen victim’ to a system ‘shaped by abuse of power, intransparency, and despotism’, said Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the group.
Source: Daily Mail