by Paolo Valentino
The investigations into the 4 cases of abuse were “ignored” during Ratzinger’s time as archbishop. He always defended himself, but admitted “mistakes” within the clergy
The accusation of having opaquely treated cases of sexual abuse within the church hierarchy accompanied Joseph Ratzinger for years after his election as pope, as did the criticism that he had not done enough to bring the cover-up bishops to justice.
But just a year ago, an official report commissioned by the Catholic diocese of Munich, Benedict XVI. responsible for willful negligence when he was archbishop in the Bavarian capital from 1977 to 1981 in at least four cases of pedophilia in which he failed to take action against the priests responsible for the abuses. It was the first time that the former pope was officially accused not only of not taking action against them, but of allowing them to continue their ministry without restrictions and controls.
The almost 2,000-page report was the result of a two-year investigation by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm. The study identified at least 497 victims of sexual abuse, mostly boys, 60% of whom were between 6 and 14 years old. They had suffered the harassment and violence of 235 pedophiles, including priests, deacons and lay church employees. Investigators had had access to internal documents of the Bavarian diocese and heard dozens of witnesses, including the pope emeritus, who issued an 80-page written statement denying any knowledge of the facts and claiming he never had attended meetings where cases of abuse were discussed: “I did not attend,” wrote Benedetto.
The homage of the faithful to the body of Benedict XVI, live
But at the January 2022 press conference to present the report, investigators called the testimony “not credible” and showed the minutes of a January 1980 meeting attended by the then-bishop. In particular, the case of one of the four priests who had been transferred from another diocese to the Munich diocese in January 1980 to undergo psychotherapy was discussed at the meeting. During the meeting, Joseph Ratzinger said nothing about the specific case, but intervened on other issues. The religious had been authorized by the Bavarian diocese to resume his pastoral work in another parish, where he continued the abuse undisturbed. In 1986 he was again accused of sexual abuse and sentenced to 18 months in prison with a suspended sentence. When the story broke in 2010, the priest was still on duty.
Benedetto’s initial reaction to the report’s publication was rather cautious. On behalf of the Pope Emeritus, Monsignor Gänswein had expressed “dismay and shame at the abuse of minors by religious” and affirmed that Benedict meant his “personal closeness and prayer for all the victims, some of whom he met during his apostolic journeys”. But two weeks later, in a letter, Benedict acknowledged that “abuses and mistakes were committed” under his pastoral leadership in Munich and asked for forgiveness, although he continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Benedict XVI. was among the first to recognize the damage the Church had suffered from decades of cover-up disclosures of sexual abuse, a realization that culminated in June 2010 when he became the first pope to seek forgiveness, and pledged that the Chiesa would have done “everything possible” to stop and prevent the scourge of pedophilia in their ranks. A few weeks earlier in Portugal, Benedict had warned that the greatest danger to the Church “came from sin within her,” not from without, and that “forgiveness is no substitute for justice.”
January 2, 2023 (change January 2, 2023 | 16:18)
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