Former pope Benedict XVI failed to act against priests accused of child sexual abuse while serving as archbishop of Munich, an investigation for the archdiocese has found.
Lawyer Martin Pusch said the probe by his law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl had uncovered four cases in which the investigators “came to the conclusion” that Benedict, then called Josef Ratzinger, “can be accused of misconduct”.
Benedict has denied the accusations. But the probe findings have been described as the “collapse of a monument”, amid what The Times described as “a mounting scandal over historic sexual abuse in the German Catholic Church”.
‘Turning a blind eye’
Benedict was head of the Catholic Church between 2005 and 2013, after serving as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. The probe report allege that under his tenure in the southern city, priests were allowed to remain active in church roles after being accused of abuse.
The investigators uncovered “two cases where perpetrators offended while he was in office” but “were allowed to continue pastoral work without limitations”, Sky News reported.
A “cleric convicted outside Germany” was also “put into service in Munich despite Ratzinger knowing his history”, the broadcaster continued.
And “a suspected paedophile priest transferred to Munich for therapy in 1980 – a transfer approved by Ratzinger”. The priest was later “allowed to resume pastoral work – a decision the Church said was made by someone else – and was convicted of molesting a boy in 1986”.
The probe report, published on Thursday, challenges what the authors describe as Benedict’s “astonishing” claims that he did not know about some of the clerics’ crimes at the time. The investigators pointed to evidence that indicates otherwise, including “minutes which suggest Benedict was present at a meeting at which one of the cases was discussed, and reported on it to the then pope John Paul II”, said The Telegraph.
The report also accuses 94-year-old Benedict of showing no willingness to “reflect self-critically on his own actions and his role or to take at least a share of the responsibility” for the failures on his watch.
In a particularly damning finding, he is alleged to have “perpetuated a culture of trivialising and turning a blind eye to” the abuse of children by his own clergy.
“The frightening phenomenon of the cover-up needs to be examined,” said Marion Westpfahl, one of the report’s authors.
‘Tower of lies’
The German Catholic Church has been hit by a string of damaging claims about the conduct of its clergy.
The report was commissioned by the Church as part of a push to confront its long covered-up history of child sex abuse. The investigators identified 235 suspected perpetrators within the Church, including 173 priests and nine deacons.
The findings make for “shocking reading”, said The Telegraph. Christoph Klingan, the vicar-general of Munich, told the newspaper that he was “moved and ashamed” by the conclusions.
“One of the most striking things” about the report, said The Times, is “the tone it reserves for Benedict”, a man “who was once, at least notionally, the pinnacle of earthly moral authority for 1.3bn people”.
“This tower of lies, erected to protect cardinal Ratzinger, pope Benedict, has today come crashing down,” said Matthias Katsch of Germany’s Eckiger Tisch survivors’ group.