By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published January 20, 2022
MUNICH (CNS)—A law firm’s report on how abuse cases were handled in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising incriminated retired Pope Benedict XVI, with lawyers accusing him of misconduct in four cases during his tenure as Munich archbishop.
Lawyer Martin Pusch of the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl said the retired pope had denied wrongdoing in all cases, reported the German Catholic news agency KNA.
Pusch said two cases concerned priests who were criminally prosecuted for abuse under then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger but were allowed to continue working as priests. No action was taken against them under church law, and there had been “nothing discernible” done in terms of caring for the welfare of the victims.
KNA reported the lawyers said the retired pope’s statements offered “an authentic insight” into the personal attitude of a prominent church representative toward abuse.
Pusch expressed doubt about Pope Benedict’s claim of ignorance in some cases, saying this was, at times, “hardly reconcilable” with the files.
At the Vatican, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said, “The Holy See believes it has an obligation to give serious attention to the document” on cases of abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, but it has not yet had a chance to study it.
“In the coming days, following its publication, the Holy See will review it and will be able to properly examine its details. Reiterating its sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path taken to protect the youngest, ensuring safe environments for them,” Bruni said.
Retired Pope Benedict headed the Munich Archdiocese from 1977 to 1982, before being called to the Vatican to head the doctrinal congregation.
From 2001, when St. John Paul II charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—with the authority to take over cases from local bishops for investigation, Pope Benedict was aware of many examples of abuse. It was his office in 2003 that expedited the process for laicizing priests guilty of sexually abusing minors.
After his election in 2005, Pope Benedict worked to address lingering concerns.
Although he mostly stayed out of public view in retirement, in April 2019 the former pope in April published what he described as “notes” on the abuse crisis, tracing the roots of the scandal to a loss of a firm faith and moral certainty that began in the 1960s. The church’s response, he insisted, must focus on a recovery of a sense of faith and of right and wrong.
Editor’s Note: Since the issuance of the law firm’s report, Pope Benedict XVI has corrected one of his prior statements regarding his presence at a 1980 meeting to discuss the transfer of a priest accused of misconduct.