Published On: Thu, Jan 20th, 2022

Pope Benedict failed to act against abusive priests, Munich Church report finds

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A long-awaited report on sexual abuse in Germany’s Munich diocese has faulted retired Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of four cases when he was archbishop in the 1970s and 1980s.

The law firm that drew up the report said that Benedict strongly denies any wrongdoing. The report also faulted the current archbishop, a prominent ally of Pope Francis, in two cases.

The archdiocese commissioned the report from law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl nearly two years ago, with a mandate to look into abuse between 1945 and 2019 and whether church officials handled allegations correctly.

“In a total of four cases, we came to the conclusion that the then-archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger, can be accused of misconduct,” said one of the reports’ authors, Martin Pusch. He added that the former pope had “strictly” denied responsibility in response to the accusations.

Lawyers with the German law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl at a news conference in Munich on Thursday. Sven Hoppe / AFP – Getty Images

The archdiocese and the law firm said that top church officials had been informed of the results ahead of its publication.

The Vatican said Thursday that it will give the report “a careful and detailed examination” in the coming days. “In reiterating shame and remorse for abuses committed by clerics against minors, the Holy See expresses its closeness to all victims and reaffirms the efforts undertaken to protect minors and ensure safe environments for them,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, in a statement to NBC News.

The current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, declined an invitation to attend the presentation on Thursday. The lawyers said that decision was regrettable.

In an extraordinary gesture last year, Marx offered to resign over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases, declaring that the scandals had brought the church to “a dead end.”

Francis swiftly rejected the offer but said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the abuse crisis.

A church-commissioned report concluded in 2018 at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger, and nearly a third served as altar boys.

Pope Benedict XVI, then know as Joseph Ratzinger, the archbishop of Munich, during an interview in his palace in Munich, 1980.ullstein bild via Getty Images file

Marx’s predecessors in the job include the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who served in Munich from 1977 to 1982 before becoming the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later becoming Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict, now aged 94, has been living in the Vatican since resigning as pontiff in 2013.

Reuters and Claudio Lavanga contributed.

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