Pope Benedict faces scrutiny over the treatment of paedophile priests in the diocese of Munich and Freising, in Germany

On the 20 January 2022 a German law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl published its most recent report on “Sexual Abuse of Minors and Adult Protected Persons by Clergy as well as Full-Time Staff in the Area of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945-2019.”

Dr Marion Westphal, a partner at the German law firm said that the investigators involved had reassessed their earlier report in 2010, when Benedict XVI was still Pope, and they had been able to do so now due to new survivor interviews and statements.

Overall, the investigators found 497 cases of abuse and identified 235 abusers, 173 of whom were priests plus nine deacons. Half the victims were male, two-thirds of whom were boys aged between eight and 14.

The investigators found it “overwhelmingly likely” that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was aware of at least four child abusing priests among his clergy while he was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

The investigators dismissed the former pope’s claims not to be aware of the four cases as “not credible”.

The report also found that the Church in Munich and Freising ignored victims of clerical sexual abuse and saw those it did notice “as a danger for the institution.”

The former deputy in the archdiocese, vicar general Gerhard Gruber, told investigators that, when the case of one abusing priest became public in 2010, he (Gruber) was “pressured” to take sole responsibility for the failure to act, in order “to protect the pope.”

Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the survivors’ initiative Eckiger Tisch described the report a “historic shock” to the Church in Germany and that it had brought to an end attempts made in 2010 by others to take the blame and protect the then Pope, “This building of lies, what was erected to protect Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, here in Munich, that has collapsed today.”

On the day before the report was published, the German Bishops’ Advisory Board for Victims of Abuse issued a statement accepting that, in many instances, the protection of perpetrators had taken precedence over the protection of victims but that “Seeing and judging is over: it is time to act — finally to act.”

After the publication of the report Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI admitted that he had attended a critical meeting in January 1980 where the decision was made to admit a known paedophile priest into the diocese after he had been transferred from Essen for therapy, but he said that this was not done in bad faith but was due to an oversight in editing his statement on this matter that had been submitted to the investigators.

The German Bishops are calling for the Vatican and also Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI to address the findings of the report and for responsibility to be taken in respect of the findings made therein.

The findings of the report have led to calls for more action by federal and state governments in dealing with sexual abuse in the church in Germany while others are of the view that the findings of the report could result in criminal charges.

In responding to the report the Vatican chose to focus on the Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI tenure as prefect of the doctrine office, from 1982-2005, and then as Pope, from 2005-2013, when he retired.

While he was prefect of the doctrine office, the Vatican pointed to the fact that in 2001 he had directed all cases of clergy sex abuse to be sent to his office for processing, after he saw that bishops around the world were moving rapists from parish to parish rather than punishing them under the church’s in-house canon law. During the final two years of his pontificate, he defrocked nearly 400 priests for abuse.

The Holy See’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli wrote that  “It was Benedict XVI even against the opinion of many self-styled ‘Ratzingerians,’ who upheld, in the midst of the storm of scandals in Ireland and Germany, the face of a penitential Church which humbles itself in asking for forgiveness, which feels dismay, remorse, pain, compassion and closeness.”

Tornielli went on to say that the report was not a judicial sentence and said it will only help combat the problem if the information is “not reduced to the search for easy scapegoats and summary judgments.”

It is expected that 94 year old Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI will respond further to the findings of the report in time.

Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM (sharon.moohan@blmlaw.com)

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