Benedict XVI expresses sorrow but rejects all accusations

After studying the more than 1,200-page report on sexual abuse by clergy and laity of the Archdiocese of Munich-Friesland between 1945 and 2019, prepared by law firm Westpfahl, Spilker, WastlPope Emeritus Benedict XVI has taken a public stance rejecting all accusations.

David Fernández Alonso-February 8, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes
Benedict XVI

Photo: ©2022 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On Tuesday, February 8, he published a letter to this effect, accompanied by a detailed analysis of the investigation contained in the report, which included several accusations against him.

With the letter and the accompanying document, Benedict XVI responds to the comments and accusations, some of them even aggressive, that have circulated in the media, and in particular from some sectors of the Church in Germany. 

The pontiff emeritus reiterates, first of all, his sorrow and request for forgiveness for the abuses committed while at the head of the archdiocese. In the missive, Benedict assures us that "I am sorry for the abuses committed while I was at the head of the archdiocese.I can only express to all victims of sexual abuse my deep shame, my great sorrow and my sincere request for forgiveness. I have had a great responsibility in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my sorrow for the abuses and errors that have occurred during the time of my mandate in the respective places. Each case of sexual abuse is terrible and irreparable. To the victims of sexual abuse goes my deepest sympathy and I regret every single case.".

For the study of the report of the Munich law firm and for the drafting of the document that has just been published, the Pope Emeritus, who is now 94 years old and in frail health but with a clear mind, has been assisted by a group of collaborators. 

The case of priest X

The report accused Ratzinger of being present at a meeting of the Ordinariate of the archdiocese on January 15, 1980, in which the priest X was allegedly mentioned as a sexual abuser and was nevertheless entrusted with a pastoral task. However, the pontiff emeritus reiterates that at that meeting there was no mention of this priest having committed sexual abuse, but that it was only a question of providing an accommodation for this priest in Munich, where he had gone for therapy.

In addition, regarding the discrepancy between what Benedict XVI stated when responding to the arguments of the report before it was published and what he stated after its publication, he clarifies once again that it is explained by a transmission error in the work of his group of collaborators. And it is clear that "a transcription error cannot be imputed to Benedict XVI as a conscious misrepresentation or as a '.lie'".

At the press conference on January 20, 2022, at which the legal experts presented their report, no evidence could be presented that Joseph Ratzinger had any other involvement. Moreover, in response to a journalist's question as to whether the experts could prove otherwise, the law firm's representative openly confirmed that there is no evidence that Ratzinger had any further data on that priest; quite simply, in his opinion, it would "more likely"that he would have had them. Therefore, the document of Benedict XVI's collaborators concludes that "as archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse.".

Finally, regarding the also unfounded assumption that Benedict XVI has downplayed the importance of acts of exhibitionism by stating that ".parish priest X was known as an exhibitionist, but not as an abuser in the proper sense of the word."it is specified that "Benedict XVI did not minimize the exhibitionist behavior, but rather expressly condemned it"They blame the accusation on a decontextualization of the phrase, which was part of a legal consideration of the punishment of such behaviors in canon law. On the contrary, "in the memoir presented, Benedict XVI affirms with the utmost clarity that abuses, including exhibitionism, are 'terrible', 'sinful', 'morally reprehensible' and 'irreparable'.". 

Three other cases

On the other hand, the report accuses Benedict XVI of having mishandled the situation in three other cases as well. Without being able to adduce evidence, the report "assumes" that in these cases, too, he would have known that the priests were abusers.

However, the document of Ratzinger's collaborators replies, ".in none of the cases analyzed by the report was Joseph Ratzinger aware of sexual abuse committed or suspected to have been committed by priests.". And indeed, the report does not provide any evidence to the contrary.

Truthfulness of Benedict XVI

All this confirms the attitude of Benedict XVI, who in the course of his years as a cardinal and as pope, has been a pioneer in the commitment to the fight against abuse sexual abuse within the Church.

Benedict XVI points out in his very personal and painful letter that ".I have been deeply moved that the oversight was used to doubt my veracity, and even to portray me as a liar. I have been even more moved by the many expressions of confidence, warm testimonials and touching letters of encouragement I have received from so many people. I am especially grateful for the confidence, support and prayers that Pope Francis has expressed to me personally.".

In addition, the letter includes the prospect of the upcoming end of the pontiff emeritus, who faces, it says, "with a joyful spirit because I firmly trust that the Lord is not only the just judge, but at the same time the friend and the brother who has already suffered my inadequacies and therefore, as judge, is at the same time my advocate (Paraclete).)".

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