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Summary: What does the Munich report say about Pope Benedict XVI?

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Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Mgr Joseph Ratzinger © Grzegorz Jakubowski/GettyImages

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 72, is the vice-dean of the College of Cardinals and was once archbishop of Munich. Known as "the Panzer Cardinal," the conservative Ratzinger is powerful in the Vatican but may be too close to the pope for the cardinals' taste. While there is no official talk at the Vatican about who will succeed the ailing Pope John Paul II, several potential candidates have emerged--including Ratzinger. (Photo by Grzegorz Galazka/Getty Images)

I.Media for Aleteia - published on 01/24/22

The 1,893-page report dedicates 220 pages to the 5 years Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop.

I.MEDIA for Aleteia has studied the 220 pages of the report of clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising dedicated to the period when Joseph Ratzinger (future Benedict XVI) was archbishop of Munich. After a brief methodological introduction, I.MEDIA details the four cases that concern Benedict XVI.

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The independent report on clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising between 1945 and 2019 directly implicates Benedict XVI for his handling of four cases of sexual abuse by priests while he was Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

The 1,893-page report, compiled by the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spiker Wastl after two years of research, evaluates the responsibility of the leadership of the Bavarian archdiocese—and in particular of its successive archbishops—over a period of 75 years. The experts of the firm commissioned by the archdiocese chiefly relied on the basis of testimonies and the official archives of the archdiocese.

These assessments, the report’s authors state, “are nothing more, but nothing less than opinions based on facts and evidence.” “Each reader of this expert report is free to form a different opinion,” they emphasize.

Of the 1,893 pages of the report, 220 pages deal exclusively with Cardinal Ratzinger. Of these, 73 pages consist of a “standard” evaluation of four of the five cases of abuse about which the experts had “suspicions,” to which are added 66 pages devoted to a particular case and giving rise to a more in-depth investigation. Finally, 82 pages of testimony given by Benedict XVI to the investigators by letter on December 14, 2021, are available in the appendix.

[Update, Benedict XVI on January 24 corrected his original testimony acknowledging having participated in a meeting in 1980 during which the reception in the archdiocese of a priest accused of pedophilia was discussed. He claims that his error in the deposition was the “consequence of an oversight in the editorial processing of his statement.” See more below.]

Although Benedict XVI was Archbishop of Munich for only five years, the investigation also attempts to determine whether his actions as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1982-2005), of the Church as pope (2005-2013), and then as pontiff emeritus may have influenced the handling of certain other cases. Benedict XVI refused to answer in detail on these points, considering that this investigation is “outside the mandate of the expert inquiry.”

In the report, legal experts follow a consistent method for analyzing the possible failures and faults of each of the archdiocesan officials over the entire period. The cases of abusive priests are anonymized and numbered. Moreover, the report rarely gives precise dates, which makes it difficult to establish a chronology of abuses, convictions (civil and canonical), and incardinations or transfers of the priests mentioned in the report.

The report first makes a general presentation of each case and then, in a “preliminary opinion,” sets out suspicions regarding the person(s) in charge. In a second step, the official’s response is presented before a “final evaluation” by the investigators in which they explain whether they maintain or withdraw their suspicions.

With regard to Benedict XVI, five cases were studied. Only one, “Case 22,” concluded that Benedict XVI was “totally exonerated.” In other cases, notably “case 41,” the pontiff is exonerated only on certain points, the report’s experts not changing their initial assessment of “presumed involvement” of Cardinal Ratzinger.

  1. “Case 37”

The report suggests that then Cardinal Ratzinger knowingly accepted the transfer to his archdiocese of a priest – “case 37″ – who had been convicted several years earlier of attempted sexual abuse and insults to children. He had arrived in Munich at the end of the 1970s and was assigned to a position involving proximity to minors. He was again convicted twice for abuse of minors, one of the sentences resulting in a suspended prison sentence. “Case 37” finally received specialized treatment and was banned from teaching in public schools by the Bavarian administration. 

After consulting the answer of Benedict XVI—who rigorously denies any precise knowledge of the facts and for that reason disputes any responsibility—the report’s authors consider that his testimony does not allow them to “fundamentally question” their preliminary assessment. Questioning the testimony of the pontiff emeritus, they continue to “assume” that he “had knowledge” of the behavior of “case 37,” considering that he had been informed by his vicar of the first conviction of the priest. 

The Bavarian legal experts also consider that Benedict XVI minimized the perception of what he described at the time as “lesser offenses” committed by “case 37,” in this case, exhibitionism. They regret the lack of preventive measures and reaction towards the victims.

  1. “Case 40”

The report’s authors conclude that Benedict XVI accepted in good conscience the incardination into his diocese of a priest – “Case 40” – who had previously been sentenced to imprisonment for repeated sexual abuse of children and who had then left for a diocese abroad. In Munich, he was assigned to a chaplaincy but forbidden to give religious instruction.

This appointment was followed by “repeated transfers.” Later, after an episode of exhibitionism in front of children, he was finally banned from ministry in parishes. 

Benedict XVI said he did not remember this priest and declared that he was “certain” that he had not met him or dealt with his case. This statement did not convince the report’s authors, who maintain their provisional assessment, saying that the pontiff emeritus has offered “contradictory statements.” Based on administrative records, they consider it “very unlikely” that he did not meet with Case 40.

Again questioning his testimony, they believe, for example, that the teaching prohibition imposed on “case 40” was related to his background. They analyze the behavior of the archbishop at the time as showing a “lack of sensitivity and willingness to clarify.”

  1. “Case 42”

The report criticizes the choice of entrusting a priest—”case 42″—guilty of having taken “suggestive photos of young people under 14 years of age” with the pastoral care of a retirement home and a hospital. Convicted by civil authorities after his assignment, the priest did not suffer any disciplinary or canonical measures afterwards.

Although Pope Benedict XVI denies having been aware of the facts of this case, the Bavarian firm’s legal experts consider that he had been alerted to the priest’s actions via a newspaper article that had been sent to him. This article, which was found in the files of the former archbishop, accused the priest of touching a 12-year-old girl. They also report that the cardinal should have started a canonical procedure, which Benedict XVI contests.

It should be noted that the German pontiff states in his preamble that he has an “unalterable memory” of this period of his past, and that any element that he does not remember has therefore “not taken place” in his eyes. However, according to the report, “case 40” will be employed to challenge the defense of Benedict XVI.

  1. “Case 41”

“Case 41″ or “Case X” is treated separately in the report, having been investigated in much greater depth. The expert Ulrich Wastl, who dealt exclusively with this case, explains this approach saying that available resources permitted the approach, whereas the other cases were often very “deficient.”

The lawyers also emphasize the “instructive and exemplary” nature of this case which has already been widely studied and publicized in the media since the publication of a previous report in 2010. The case spans four decades, from the time Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop to the current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx. 

For Cardinal Ratzinger, the case involves the transfer of a priest from a diocese where he had been removed from his work with young people because he was considered “a danger” after assaulting three 12-year-old boys. After undergoing psychotherapy, the priest was taken in during the time of Cardinal Ratzinger in Munich, where he continued his misdeeds for years. The report points out that he was given a job that involved close proximity to children. Benedict XVI denies having any knowledge of the priest’s background.

Relying on a greater body of evidence and archives than in the other cases, Wastl dismisses several suspicions concerning Benedict XVI, but believes that Cardinal Ratzinger nonetheless promoted a “protection strategy” which consisted of affirming that “almost everything he does not remember did not happen.”

Wastl considers the testimony of the Pope Emeritus “not very credible,” relying on the minutes of a meeting in which his name appears. The document includes a discussion in which the cardinal reports on “the meeting that Pope John Paul II had on December 28, 1979, with a group of German bishops concerning the case of Professor Küng,” the rival theologian of Cardinal Ratzinger who had fallen from grace in the eyes of Rome.

***

In all cases, the report regrets the “systematically claimed ignorance” of Benedict XVI in his testimony and his refusal to answer questions about his role after 1982. The report’s authors also question his argument of the “spirit of the age” or “the knowledge of the time” – especially from the point of view of canonical procedures.

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