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Ex-Pope Benedict begs forgiveness from abuse victims

February 8, 2022

The retired German pontiff has apologized for any "grevious faults" in the way he dealt with sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but denied any personal wrongdoing.

In this 2015 file photo, former Pope Benedict XVI sits in a chair at St. Peter's basilica
Former Pope Benedict XVI is facing mounting pressure over sex abuse scandals that took place while he was Archbishop of MunichImage: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP

Former Pope Benedict XVI asked forgiveness Tuesday over his handling of clergy sex abuse cases.

Benedict expressed his "deep shame" and "great pain," as well as his "sincere request for apology to all victims of sexual abuse."

However, the retired pope said he was not personally involved in any cover-up after an independent inquiry criticized his actions in the way he dealt with four cases during his time as archbishop of Munich.

What did the ex-pope say?

An independent report published on January 20 chronicles decades of alleged abuse in the archdiocese of Munich, which the ex-pope led as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1977 to 1982.

In a letter in response to the report — which found that Benedict neglected to take action against clerics accused of abuse and that he lied to investigators carrying out the recent inquiry — the 94-year-old did not personally apologize to the victims of the abuse.

Benedict also addressed the inquiry's conclusion that he misled investigators. The ex-pope recently acknowledged he'd made a false statement about attending a meeting in 1980 concerning a sexual abuse case in the diocese. The meeting concerned the transfer of a priest, who was accused of abusing children, from the western state of North Rhine Westphalia to Bavaria.

Benedict said his false statement to investigators was based on a misunderstanding.

"An oversight occurred concerning the question of my participation in the ordinariate meeting of January 15, 1980," he wrote, adding that the mistake was "not intentional" and "I hope, also excusable."

"The fact that the oversight was exploited to cast doubt on my truthfulness, indeed to portray me as a liar, has affected me deeply," he said.

"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," Benedict said in a statement released by the Vatican.

Benedict wrote that he was "particularly grateful for the confidence, support and prayer that [his successor] Pope Francis personally expressed to me."

What did the abuse report reveal?

According to law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl (WSW), which conducted the investigation, Benedict failed to prevent abuse of minors during his tenure as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. 

"In a total of four cases, we reached a consensus there was a failure to act," said attorney Martin Pusch, who presented the WSW report.

Two cases involve priests who were legally charged with child abuse and were allowed to continue their work in the church as pastors.  

The church also took no official disciplinary action against the clergymen while it was unclear what care was given to the victims.

Experts from WSW suggested that while serving as Archbishop of Munich, Benedict reassigned priests who had abused children to other areas during his time as archbishop in Bavaria.

These accusations were categorically denied by the former pope's lawyers on Tuesday.

"The expert report contains no evidence to support an allegation of misconduct or assistance in a cover-up," the lawyers argue. "As archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse."

Sexual Abuse: Benedict under pressure

Critical response

The organization Eckiger Tisch (Square Table), which represents people affected by sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, expressed disappointment over Tuesday's developments, saying Pope Benedict's words didn't go far enough.

"Wrongdoing and mistakes took place, but no one takes concrete responsibility," the group said in a statement.

"Joseph Ratzinger can't bring himself simply to state that he is sorry not to have done more to protect the children entrusted to his church. That would be an honest sentence," the group said, referring to Benedict's name before he became pope.

DW's religious affairs analyst Martin Gak said Tuesday's apology from the former pope is unlikely to bring about change, as it is just a "repetition of contrition, apologies, that we have seen over a 20-year period."

"There has been enough apology, but not enough change," he continued. "The fact is that apologies do nothing really to bring transparency and to sort out the situation the church finds itself, not only in relation to previous crimes, but in relation to the current situation and people that might be victims of abuse as we speak."

Gak said it is time for the church to hand over investigations to the state. "Obviously we generally do not allow people that are actually accused of a crime to define or judge their own case. There has to be mandatory reporting on the part of the Church, and state authorities have to actually take control of investigations. The church has not been able to bring transparency."

jsi/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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