ROME — Responding to a report that he mishandled four child sexual abuse cases when he was archbishop in Germany decades ago, retired Pope Benedict XVI admitted on Tuesday that “abuse and mistakes” had taken place under his direction and asked for forgiveness, although he denied any wrongdoing.
“I had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” Benedict XVI said in a written response to the findings of the report commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church in Munich. “All the greater is my pain for the abuses and errors that have occurred in these various places during my tenure,” he said in the response released by the Vatican. “Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable.”
Investigators’ report and accusations that Benedict had misled them shocked a Roman Catholic Church that has been devastated for a quarter of a century by revelations of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Allegations related to Benedict’s stay in Munich have reached the top of the Church hierarchy, and they came shortly after a separate report commissioned by the Vatican itself cast a shadow over Benedict’s predecessor. , John Paul II, for not having rooted out the aggressors in his church.
Benedict, whose supporters point out that as pope he did much to expel abusers from the church, has sought to put himself in a better light. But critics found his responses more legalistic than pastoral and falling short of what many abuse victims and their advocates yearn to hear from the former church leader.
“He repeats words of apology that have fallen on deaf ears for decades,” said Mike McDonnell, communications manager for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a global association known as the SNAP name.
“Real apologies are followed by real reparations, and that’s a concept the church doesn’t seem able to grasp,” he said, adding that the letter released Tuesday followed a pattern of abuse, recognition institutionalism and inaction that victims have long complained about.
On Tuesday, Benedict XVI recalled again that he had met dozens of victims of abuse during his eight years of pontificate and during numerous apostolic journeys. He had, he said, “seen firsthand the effects of the most serious misconduct.”
Benedict, 94, also expressed outrage that the Munich law firm that carried out the investigation accused him of being less than honest in his initial responses, which he provided in 82 written pages.
Lawyers presented evidence at a press conference that the pontiff had attended a meeting about transferring an abusive priest to his diocese for therapy, although he claimed not to have attended. The discrepancy, Benedict insisted in the new answer, was an honest error introduced when editing his answer.
“For me, it was deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my veracity, and even to label me a liar,” Benedict said.
That defensive tone also ran through an analysis accompanying the letter by four legal experts who had assisted the retired pope. They wrote that the report “contains no evidence of any allegation of misconduct or conspiracy in any cover-up” on the part of Benedict.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a victims’ rights group, said Benedict’s response – which she called “boilerplate” – was a “deep disappointment and a missed opportunity”.
Instead, Benedict “did not concede anything”, Ms Doyle said in a statement, and did not take meaningful responsibility for the abuse and cover-up. “The church is poorer for this,” she added.
The report was commissioned by the German Archdiocese which investigated how the church handled sexual abuse cases between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, at the time Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was Archbishop of Munich and Freising of 1977 to 1982.
The report says at least 497 victims of abuse were identified over the 74-year period it examined and found that Benedict XVI mishandled four cases during his nearly five years as ‘archbishop. Benedict’s legal experts said in their analysis that investigators had not demonstrated that Benedict knew of the criminal history of any of the four priests in question. Investigators had previously cast doubt on that claim.
A few days after the report was published, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI, admitted that Benedict XVI was at the meeting on the removal of the violent priest. But Benedict maintained that he did not know why the priest was transferred to his diocese, only that he needed therapy.
It remains unclear whether the German report will have a significant impact on Benedict XVI’s legacy as pope.
Last week, the Vatican issued a strong defense of Benedict, recalling that as pontiff he “has enacted very harsh norms against clerical aggressors, special laws to combat pedophilia”, and that he has was the first pope to meet and ask for forgiveness from the victims of abuse.
Some experts say Benedict was already a polarizing figure and that supporters and critics were unlikely to be influenced by accusations of neglect.
“Benedict has always been a lightning rod, and I’m not sure this chapter will change much,” said John L. Allen Jr., Benedict’s biographer and publisher of the Catholic website Crux.
“Benedict’s legacy is in the eye of his beholder,” he added, “and those inclined to admire him will give him the benefit of the doubt,” while those “inclined to be skeptical of regard to Benedict” will find confirmation of their beliefs. .