x

Society

Retired Pope Asks Pardon for Abuse, But Admits No Wrongdoing

February 8, 2022

ROME — Retired Pope Benedict XVI asked forgiveness Tuesday for any “grievous faults” in his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, but admitted to no personal or specific wrongdoing after an independent report criticized his actions in four cases while he was archbishop of Munich, Germany.

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” the retired pope said.

Benedict, 94, was responding to a Jan. 20 report from a German law firm that had been commissioned by the German Catholic Church to look into how cases of sexual abuse were handled in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.

The report’s authors faulted Benedict’s handling of four cases during his time as archbishop, accusing him of misconduct for having failed to restrict the ministry of the priests in the cases even after they had been convicted criminally. The report also faulted his predecessors and successors, estimating that there had been at least 497 abuse victims over the decades and at least 235 suspected perpetrators.

The Vatican on Tuesday released a letter Benedict wrote to respond to the allegations, alongside a more technical reply from his team of lawyers who had provided an initial 82-page response to the law firm about his nearly five-year tenure in Munich.

The conclusion of Benedict’s lawyers was resolute: “As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse,” they wrote. They criticized the report’s authors for misinterpreting their submission, and asserted that they provided no evidence that Benedict was aware of the criminal history of any of the four priests in question.

Benedict’s response was far more nuanced and spiritual, though he went on at length to thank his legal team before even addressing the allegations at hand or the victims of abuse.

In the letter, Benedict issued what he called a “confession,” recalling that daily Mass begins with believers confessing their sins and asking forgiveness for their faults and even their “grievous faults.” Benedict noted that in his meetings with abuse victims while he was pope, “I have seen at first hand the effects of a most grievous fault.

“And 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,” he wrote. “As in those meetings, 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.”

The law firm report identified four cases in which Ratzinger was accused of misconduct in failing to act against abusers: Two cases involved priests who offended while Ratzinger was archbishop and were punished by the German legal system but were kept in pastoral ministry without any limits on their ministry. A third case involved a cleric who was convicted by a court outside Germany but was put into service in Munich; while the fourth involved a convicted pedophile priest who was allowed to transfer to Munich in 1980, and was later put into ministry. In 1986, the priest received a suspended sentence for molesting a boy.

Benedict’s team had earlier clarified an initial “error” in their submission to the law firm that had insisted Ratzinger was not present at the 1980 meeting in which the priest’s transfer to Munich was discussed. Ratzinger was there, but his return to ministry was not discussed, they said.

Benedict said he was deeply hurt that the “oversight” about his presence at the meeting had been used to “cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar.” But he said he had been heartened by the letters and gestures of support he had received, including from his successor.

“I am particularly grateful for the confidence, support and prayer that Pope Francis personally expressed to me,” he said.

The Vatican had already strongly defended Benedict’s record in the aftermath of the law firm report, recalling that Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of abuse, that he had issued strong norms to punish priests who raped children and had directed the church to pursue a path of humility in seeking forgiveness for the crimes of its clerics.

The Vatican’s defense, however, focused primarily on Benedict’s tenure as head of the Holy See’s doctrine office, from 1982 until he was elected pope in 2005.

While he was prefect of the doctrine office, Ratzinger in 2001 directed all cases of clergy sex abuse to be sent to his office for processing, after he saw that bishops around the world were moving rapists from parish to parish rather than punishing them under the church’s in-house canon law. During the final two years of his pontificate, Benedict defrocked nearly 400 priests for abuse.

Benedict reflected on his legacy at the end of his letter, noting that he is at the end of his life and will soon be judged by God.

“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” he wrote. “Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for 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.”

RELATED

HONOLULU  — The Hawaii attorney general's office must pay attorney fees for using last year's Maui wildfire tragedy to file a petition in “bad faith” that blamed a state court judge for a lack of water for firefighting, Hawaii's Supreme Court ruled.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

9 Are Facing Charges in What Police in Canada Say is the Biggest Gold Theft in the Country’s History

TORONTO (AP) — Police said nine people are facing charges in what authorities are calling the biggest gold theft in Canadian history from Toronto’s Pearson International airport a year ago.

Allman Brothers Band co-founder and legendary guitarist Dickey Betts dies at 80 Dickey Betts, who died Thursday at age 80, really was born a ramblin’ man.

NEW YORK  — New York police removed a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at Columbia University on Thursday and arrested more than 100 demonstrators, including the daughter of a prominent Minnesota congresswoman.

ATHENS - The special 'Easter Basket,' which offers traditional Easter foods at lower or unchanged prices, will come into effect from April 24 to May 4.

LIVERPOOL - Liverpool failed to overcome a three-goal deficit and was eliminated from the Europa League on Thursday despite beating Atalanta 1-0 in the second leg of their quarterfinal matchup.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.