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Ex-Pope Benedict XVI knew about sexual abuse as archbishop of Munich, report says

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By David Mac Dougall  with AP
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sits in St. Peter's Basilica as he attends the ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year, at the Vatican, Dec. 8, 2015
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sits in St. Peter's Basilica as he attends the ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year, at the Vatican, Dec. 8, 2015   -   Copyright  Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo, FILE

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

Pope Benedict has always denied knowing about cases of sexual abuse within the church during that time.

But a new report says he failed to act to prevent abuse by clerics.

“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 report's authors, Martin Pusch.

Two of those cases, he said, involved perpetrators who offended while he was in office and were punished by the judicial system but were kept in pastoral work without express limits on what they were allowed to do. No action was ordered under canon law.

In a third case, a cleric who had been convicted by a court outside Germany was put into service in the Munich archdiocese and the circumstances speak for Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict) having known of the priest’s previous history, Pusch said.

Another of the report’s authors, Ulrich Wastl, said Benedict’s claim not to have attended a meeting in 1980 in which the priest’s transfer to Munich was discussed lacks credibility.

Vatican reaction to the report

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.

The archdiocese and the law firm say that top church officials were not informed about the results ahead of its publication.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Holy See would hold off on commenting until it had read the report in full and could give the contents “careful and detailed examination.”

“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,” he said in an emailed statement.

Survivors group slams 'total failure of the system'

One of Germany’s most prominent advocates for victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, Matthias Katsch, described today’s report as a “balance sheet of horror.”

“A whole web of lies. Bewildering. What did Benedict know? Everything. What did he do? Nothing,” he wrote on Twitter.

Katch is the founder of Eckiger Tisch, an organisation that represents the interests of people affected by sexual abuse.

He worked to expose widespread abuse at a Jesuit school in Germany during the 1970s and early 1980s involving him and his classmates and hundreds of other former pupils.

On Thursday, he said the new independent report had shown a “total failure of the system.”

“The building of lies to protect Pope Benedict has just collapsed with a crash. Benedict was an accomplice in the abuse of numerous victims after 1980.”

Munich’s current archbishop and predecessor implicated

Munich's current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is a prominent reformist ally of Pope Francis, was faulted in two cases.

He declined an invitation to attend Thursday’s presentation, which the lawyers said they regret.

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.”

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

Marx’s predecessor in the role Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who was Munich’s archbishop from 1982 until Marx took over in 2008, was faulted over his handling of 21 cases. He denies wrongdoing.

Legacy of Catholic Church abuse in Germany

In 2018, a church-commissioned report concluded that 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.

In recent months, turbulence in the Cologne archdiocese over officials’ handling of abuse allegations has shaken the German church. A report last year found that the archbishop of Hamburg, a former Cologne church official, neglected his duty when handling several allegations of abuse, but Pope Francis rejected his resignation offer.

That report cleared Cologne’s archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, of wrongdoing. But Woelki’s handling of the issue infuriated many Catholics. He had kept under wraps the first report on church officials’ actions, drawn up by the same firm that produced the Munich report, citing legal concerns.

In September, the pope gave Woelki a several-month “spiritual timeout” after what the Vatican called “major errors” of communication.