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Pope Benedict XVIFranco Origlia / Getty Images

Pope Emeritus Benedict’s latest statement on the issue, published today, can be read here.

MUNICH, Germany (LifeSiteNews) — On January 22, a German law firm published a sexual abuse report for the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, recording all detectable abuse cases from 1945 until 2019. Among others, three former archbishops as well as the current archbishop of that diocese – Cardinals Julius Döpfner, Joseph Ratzinger, Friedrich Wetter, and Reinhard Marx – find themselves accused of having mishandled certain abuse cases. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger had been the Archbishop of Munich from 1977 until 1982. 497 abuse victims have been detected by the law firm, with 325 abusers.

Pope Benedict is accused by the law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl – who wrote the report on behalf of Cardinal Marx’s archdiocese – of mishandling four cases of sexual misconduct. The most prominent of these cases is that of Father Peter H., who had been a known abuser when he was sent to Munich for psychological treatment and accepted into the archdiocese.

At a 15 January 1980 meeting, the archdiocese decided to welcome this priest, but it is not clear what Cardinal Ratzinger specifically knew then. The problem is that he insisted, in the 82-page-long response to the accusations which is attached to the 1,900-page long abuse report, that he was not present at that specific meeting and that he had no information about the past of this priest.

That story was discussed in 2010; even the New York Times reported on it. At the time, Ratzinger was Pope, and the case therefore gained special attention. At the time, Dr. Gerhard Gruber, the vicar general of Munich during Ratzinger’s episcopacy, claimed full responsibility for the hiring of Father H. as a parish priest in Munich despite his history of abuse. Father H. was later, in 1986, convicted for child abuse, and his psychiatrist at the time repeatedly reported to the archdiocese that the priest was not very motivated during his therapy and that he should not work with children. But under Ratzinger’s leadership, Father H. was allowed to do parish work, and thus having access to young people, even though an initial 3 January 1980 letter from his home diocese told Munich that Father H. “presented a danger,” and that he should work preferably in a “girls’ school,” indicating that he had problems in relation to boys. The priest responsible for personnel cases was at the time Father Friedrich Fahr, a personal friend of Ratzinger, according to the New York Times who quoted the diocese’s obituary for Fr. Fahr. The 2007 obituary states that Fahr “always remained personally particularly close to the Curia’s Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.”

Now we come to the new developments in the 2022 abuse report. The former vicar general Dr. Gruber has retracted his earlier statement given while Ratzinger was Pope. He now claims in his testimony as published by the abuse report that he had been “pressured” in 2010 by the Munich archdiocese to take responsibility for this case for the sake of the “protection of the Pope.” He told the law firm that “I have no doubt that Cardinal Ratzinger had the necessary information concerning this case [Father H.],” adding that he did not know, however, exactly when he did. The 93-year-old clergyman also finds himself accused by the sex abuse report for mishandling abuse cases in multiple cases.

Another diocesan official has played a similarly wavering role. Dr. Lorenz Wolf claimed in 2010 that it was “improbable” that Ratzinger was informed about the background of this priest, but in 2016 he stated in an internal court document that Ratzinger did indeed know more about the situation of this priest.

In both cases – that of Gruber and that of Wolf – questions arise as to which of their statements are now more to be trusted, the earlier ones when Benedict was still Pope or the new ones.

Furthermore, the contested 15 January 1980 meeting, at which it was agreed to welcome Father H. into the archdiocese so that he could receive therapy, has now turned into a point of contention, since Pope Benedict, in his response, repeatedly stated that he was not present at that meeting and that he had “no knowledge” about the background of this priest. Subsequent to the publication of January’s abuse report, however, he has had to retract this statement since the minutes of that meeting show that he had indeed been present. Pope Benedict stated on January 24 that he did make a mistake in his response, not out of “bad faith,” but rather out of a slip in the “editorial” work on his text. He also insisted that, while he did participate in that January 15 meeting, those at the meeting did not decide to give Father H. pastoral duties, something which happened only 15 days later, on 1 February.

Multiple observers (as well as some sources with whom LifeSiteNews spoke) think that Benedict has had the help of several collaborators in writing down his response, since he himself is already 94 years of age and accordingly weakened and since the language of the document does not reflect his usual writing style. (Ed: In his most recent statement, released today, the Pope Emeritus confirmed that a “small group of friends” helped him to prepare his statement. He also explains in detail how the editorial mistake was made about his presence at the 15 Jan 1980 meeting, that he feels “shame” and “sorrow” for any abuse that has taken place under his leadership. He included also a “heartfelt request for forgiveness.”)

Some sympathetic to his cause think that his counselors are in part to blame for this public relations mishap. It is especially grave as Benedict himself insisted in his written response that he still has a very good memory, saying that “my memory of matters that are decades old is still very good.” Therefore, as he wrote in his testimony for the law firm, when he says he does not remember an event it is “not due to a lack of knowledge” on his part due to his lack of a long-term memory. In that same testimony, Pope Benedict then wrote about the contested diocesan meeting: “I did not participate at the session of the diocese from 15 January 1980,” making this statement three times.

Pope Benedict, after correcting his own written statement, made another clarifying statement.

Cardinal Müller, in a January 31 interview with Lothar Rilinger, stated that this mistake “is not [Benedict’s] fault, but it is a mishap on the part of his collaborators.”

“He with his 94 years is intellectually still fully present but cannot handle any more certain practical things such as the reading of thousands of files on a screen,” Müller added.

In addition to this mistake, Benedict’s written statement included in the sex abuse report tries to diminish the gravity of one case by pointing out that this abuser priest merely showed “exhibitionism” instead of touching his victims. In fact, this priest had attempted in at least two cases to sexually abuse minors and was both times interrupted by outside intervention. The cleric was repeatedly punished by courts for sexual abuse, including exhibitionism. For this reason, he had been removed from the public school system even before Ratzinger became Archbishop of Munich.

This attempt at downplaying the role of this priest – he had, according to Benedict, committed his deeds as a “private man” – did not sit well with the German public. The abuse report claims also that Ratzinger did indeed know about the background of this priest – communicated to him by the vicar general – but allowed him to remain in his teaching position and work in pastoral care, since there was “no danger of public scandal.” Benedict’s response to these claims is that he does not remember having spoken with the vicar general about this matter, that he might have known about the previous legal case in this matter, but that he did not know the content of it.

All in all, Benedict claims in all four cases of abuser priests during his time in Munich that he did not know about these priests’ evildoing. What some observers missed is that he might have added that he regrets that he did not know these dangers and that he is sorry for any form of possible negligence on his part.

The other two cases mentioned in the report were one priest who had been condemned by a court for sexual abuse before being taken into the diocese by Ratzinger, and another who had been accused of taking “lewd photos” of girls under the age of 14 and who was subsequently moved by Ratzinger into a home for the elderly, where he also was active in the neighboring parish.

Because these cases took place over 40 years ago, it might be difficult to get to the fuller truth. But it is striking that Pope Benedict recently made the same statement of denial of having been contacted and informed about grave accusations against Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, even though four different priests told a German journalist that they had informed the cardinal at different times (1998, end of the 1990s, and 2004) about Maciel’s abuses. Benedict said not long ago that each of these specific claims, made by priests who gave their names, was untrue.

Let us return to the Munich sex abuse report. The indignation in Germany over the content of this report is so strong that several cities are considering renaming places that had been named after Pope Benedict (as well as other prelates) or to revoke honorary citizenships. A small town in Northern Germany has already decided to do so, in light of the sex abuse report.

Benedict’s mistake in insisting upon his absence at the 15 January 1980 diocesan meeting has added fuel to the intense outrage that is currently flaring up in Germany over this new sex abuse report. The German journalist Lucas Wiegelmann commented in Die Welt that “the credibility of Benedict has certainly been damaged because he obviously has made a false statement to the investigators.”

“How Benedict, who had access to the files, could make such a mistake, is inexplicable,” he continued.

In another article responding to Benedict’s own retractation, the journalist also asked: “Did Benedict have counselors [in writing up his response], and if so, what role did they play?”

The debate in Germany is heated, especially since Pope Benedict stands for a more conservative position within the Catholic Church which opposes several reform ideas of the German Synodal Path, such as the ordination of women, married priests, and the blessing of homosexual relationships. Many observers argue, therefore, that the attacks on Benedict now aim at weakening that conservative voice in Germany.

For example, Roger Koeppel, the editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche, stated in a January 25 video that Pope Benedict is being “morally discredited” by the public media now, “because he represents conservative positions.” Koeppel, who himself is a Protestant, calls Ratzinger a “bulwark against the zeitgeist.” He senses a strong “will to discriminate and to discredit” when it comes to Ratzinger.

One could, of course, also ask whether the German-speaking and international media showed a similar intense outrage when Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò revealed in August 2018 that he had warned Pope Francis against working with then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and that the Pope, in spite of these warnings, called McCarrick back into active work for the Church. Or, to offer another example, when the Bishop Zanchetta scandal broke out in 2019, revealing the Pope’s lenience towards an Argentine bishop who had been imposing his homosexual desires on young seminarians, thereby causing grave scandal.

This topic has been also raised by the prominent German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It spoke at the end of January about the “silence of the Pope,” meaning here Pope Francis’s silence about Benedict and pointing to his many own failures with regard to sex abuse cases. The authors relate that Andrea Tornielli, a sort of papal spokesman, wrote an article defending Benedict and asking people to recall the many achievements of the retired Pope in the fight against child abuse in the Church, starting in 2001, when he was as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with his taking over the responsibility for handling the cases of priestly sex abuse. Under his watch, hundreds of priests were laicized. Cardinal Fernando Filoni, a former collaborator of Pope Benedict, was given a platform at the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, also to defend Ratzinger.

Pope Francis, the German newspaper continued, might well make a statement after Pope Benedict’s own additional statement. But, the authors continued, “whatever he would then say: he has to expect that he will be measured according to his own words. And his own record in dealing with sexual abuse does not look very appealing, even without an abuse report.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who had been appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope Benedict and who is the editor of Ratzinger’s collected works, also defended the retired pontiff. “For me,” he wrote, “it is evident that he as Archbishop Ratzinger did not knowingly do anything wrong.” In Germany, Müller added, “and only there, one is interested in damaging Joseph Ratzinger.” Furthermore, the German cardinal pointed out that Ratzinger was “not informed about the pedophile history of [Father] H. and that he therefore could not assess his potential danger.” For Müller, there is not the “slightest doubt” that Benedict “objectively and subjectively speaks the truth.”

He went on to that Benedict is “in the highest position that man in the Universal Catholic Church who has done the most for the canonical persecution and criminal prosecution of these despicable crimes.”

For Cardinal Müller, this Munich sex abuse report was a “commissioned work which was to serve the de-Catholicized agenda of the German national Church.” Here, he points to the German Synodal Path. Interestingly, Cardinal Marx himself, though also accused of mishandling two sexual abuse cases and of never having shown closeness to the victims of his diocese, has been fairly mildly treated by the media in Germany.

Another witness came forward on January 31: Manfred Lütz, a German psychiatrist. He described in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung how it was that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger started the process of the Church changing her attitude toward sex abuser priests in 1999. That year, at a high-raking curial meeting, Ratzinger raised the issue that bishops in the world often have the impression that Rome is an obstacle in the decisive handling of certain abuse cases. Two years later, in 2001, Ratzinger was able to convince Pope John Paul II to task Ratzinger’s Congregation with the handling of the abuse cases. Furthermore, stated the psychiatrist, it was Ratzinger who tasked him, Lütz, with the organization of the first international sex abuse conference in the Vatican, in 2003. In his opinion, the new Munich sex abuse report, which accuses Ratzinger of mishandling abuse cases, is mostly based on conjectures and not on hard facts.

LifeSiteNews spoke with multiple persons who know Pope Benedict personally or who are sympathetic toward him. One of them, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Basically, the impression remains that Ratzinger does not want to admit anything, that he does not want to take responsibility. One could also say in principle: ‘I regret all the omissions and mistakes that I have made as archbishop and apologize.’ As soon as you explain and justify and defend yourself, you have already lost. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the affair is now also being instrumentalized to discredit him and his life’s work. But it’s also hard for me to defend him.”

Others pointed out that a bishop of such a large diocese has much to do and that it is up to the vicar general to handle personnel matters. Only full pastors were in the hands of the bishop. But it is also obvious that Cardinal Ratzinger was more of an academic and did not have specific interest in the practical side of handling a diocese. One observer thought that the former Archbishop of Munich might have just apologized for his lack of interest in practical pastoral questions.

Pope Emeritus Benedict’s latest statement on the issue, published today, can be read here. 

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.