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Pope Francis vows 'justice' for abuse victims

January 21, 2022

More needs to be done to enforce rules against perpetrators of sexual abuse, Pope Francis has said. Public prosecutors in Munich have also said they will investigate dozens of cases outlined in a scathing report.

Pope Francis at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican
The Pope has called for a stricter enforcement of the Church's canonical law against abusersImage: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Pope Francis on Friday pledged to apply justice for the victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church a day after a report revealed that former Pope Benedict XVI had failed to act in four cases of abuse prior to becoming pope.

Thursday's report looked into sexual abuse cases by members of the clergy in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Ex-Pope Benedict XVI — known as Joseph Ratzinger at the time — was archbishop there between 1977 and 1985.

Pope Francis did not explicitly mention the report in his address. 

"The church, with God's help, is carrying out the commitment with firm determination to do justice to the victims of abuse by its members, applying with particular attention and rigor to the canonical legislation envisaged," the Pope said in his speech on Friday.

What did Pope Francis say?

Pope Francis was speaking from the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City to representatives from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the Vatican authority charged with dealing with abuse allegations.

Sexual Abuse: Benedict under pressure

Ratzinger — who has resided in Vatican City since stepping down as pope — headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for over 20 years before being elected as pope in 2005.

Francis highlighted the recent reforms to the canon law that aim to enable the Church to hold abusers to account better. He called for its strict application.

"This alone cannot be enough to curb the phenomenon, but it is an important step towards restoring justice, making amends for the scandal and changing a perpetrator," the 85-year-old pontiff said.

Two of the cases mentioned in the report pointed to perpetrators who had been punished by the German judicial system, but we're allegedly allowed to continue their work for the Church, thus avoiding consequences under canonical law.

Police open investigations into abuse

Public prosecutors in Munich also responded to the allegations in Thursday's report, announcing on Friday that they were opening investigations in 42 cases of alleged misconduct by leading members of the Catholic Church in Germany.

Pope Benedict XVI shaking hands with Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2011
Ex-Pope Benedict XVI (L) and the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx (R) were both mentioned in the reportImage: maria grazia picciarella/infophoto/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government spokeswoman, Christiane Hoffmann, said on Friday it was "urgent that these matters be fully investigated and a comprehensive reappraisal be carried out."

The report makes "the extent of the abuse and breach of duty by church dignitaries shockingly clear," she said, adding that: "It is crucial that confidence in the process of coming to terms with the past is strengthened in the Catholic Church and by individual dignitaries."

Ratzinger and his successor as archbishop in the diocese of Munich and Freising, Friedrich Wetter, are both accused of direct and personal misconduct in the report.

While four cases relate to the time when Ratzinger held the role, another 21 have been connected to Wetter while yet another two have been connected to the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

ab/wmr (dpa, AP, AFP)