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Pope Benedict XVI in the popemobile after a general audience in St. Peter's Square on September 28, 2010.John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

October 26, 2020 (LifeSitenews) – “Spiritual abuse” is one of the epithets given to the group by the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising. And although he was warned by several people, Benedict says he never knew about this, but now has regrets.

A new article published in Germany raises questions as to whether Pope Benedict XVI acted irresponsibly as the archbishop of Munich-Freising and later as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then-Pope with regard to a Catholic community whom he himself had given its canonical status. In 1978, he had authorized the canonical status of the Integrated Community (Integrierte Gemeinde) in Munich. The group is now accused by a diocesan commission of intruding into the personal lives of its members. For example, the leadership of the group “decided whether and when a couple would or should have children.” This rule sometimes led to the fact that a couple waited too long and remained childless. Other couples were told to divorce. According to sources, Joseph Ratzinger was at least twice warned, in 2000 and in 2001, even before he became Pope in 2005.

After his years in the Archdiocese of Munich (1977-1982), Ratzinger maintained close relationships with this group long after he had been called to Rome to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1982, and even as a Pope he still gave them privileges, for example by allowing the establishment of the Chair for the Theology of the People of God at the Pontifical Lateran University. That chair was established during his pontificate, in 2008, and it was a continuation of the Academy of the Theology of the People of God that had been founded in 2003 by Ratzinger himself. The new chair in Rome was then headed by one of Ratzinger's own students, Professor Ludwig Weimer, who wrote his post-graduate thesis under him. Both Weimer and his successor, Professor Achim Buckenmaier, are members of the Integrated Community.

As Herder Korrespondenz points out, Weimer is also a founding member of the Circle of Students of Joseph Ratzinger that was founded in 1978. When Ratzinger became Pope in 2005, the Integrated Community published a book with many pictures, showing how closely they have been linked with the now-retired Pope, and over many decades. Ratzinger met them first in 1976, and he must have been attracted both by their ecumenical spirit, by their desire to study more to the Jewish religion, as well as by their approval of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The detailed background information on the Integrated Community comes to us from two journalists, Dr. Benjamin Leven and Lucas Wiegelmann, who wrote this report for the November issue of the Catholic journal Herder Korrespondenz.

Already in October 2019, the Integrated Community – or the Catholic Integrated Community, as it is now called – was the subject of media reports, because it became known that the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising was investigating this community. At the time, the Community refused to collaborate with the investigation and rejected the claims.

The reason for this investigation was that the Community had not followed canonical rules, such as informing the diocese of the newly elected head of the group. This needs to be done every six years.

Leven and Wiegelmann quote an intermittent report of this diocesan investigation, dated October 1, 2019. “Relationships and marriages were initiated or separated, according whether or not they were helpful for the life of the community,” this report stated. It further described how couples were told by the leadership of the community whether or not they should have children, and when. Sometimes this led to childlessness, due to the delay of attempting to start a family.

One former member of the Integrated Community told Herder Korrespondenz: “I was told to take the pill.” Even though this woman was struggling with that situation, she could not even go to Confession, since “Confession, which would have made many things easier, did not exist in that community.”

The Integrated Community, which came out of a youth movement under Father Aloys Goergen in the post-war period, but was fully taken over by Traudl Wallbrecher in 1968, attracted several German-speaking theologians for its attempt to build new communities similar to those of the Early Church. Families moved together into communities and a tone of equality was set. However, at the same time, the natural family was demeaned which was the cause of much distress for the children and spouses. Sometimes, the children were raised by others, and not by their own parents.

LifeSite was able to confirm these main characteristics of the group with several well-informed sources in Germany, Rome, and elsewhere.

As the intermittent diocesan report wrote, there were even doubtful financial transactions, where members were encouraged to pass on their own personal wealth to the community, making themselves even sometimes destitute. Members did not dare to criticize the practices of the group because they feared exclusion from it. The report concludes: “All this is not subject to criminal liability, but it has largely the character of spiritual abuse.”

When Joseph Ratzinger became the archbishop of Munich in 1977, there existed in the diocese already reports about the destructive sides of the Integrated Community. For example, as Herder Korrespondenz reports, there exists a note by Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, dated April 3, 1973. In it, he mentioned the “limitation of the freedom of its members, separation of families, professional and financial dependency, and the un-Christian treatment of those who left the group.”

Being then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith, Ratzinger was later contacted, in 2001, by a former member of the Community, who stated that there existed a “strong cult of the female leader [Wallbrecher],”  as well as a “demonization of critics.” Additionally, Ratzinger was then informed that the group encouraged mutual denunciations among the members, and that there was to be found “the disdain for and splitting up of the natural family structures,” together with an “instrumentalization of the children against their parents.”

More than former members of the group informed Cardinal Ratzinger, too; in 2000, a representative of a German diocese went personally to Rome to inform the then-Prefect of the CDF about the Integrated Community, according to Herder Korrespondenz. Many of the above-mentioned characteristics of the group were presented to Ratzinger. As the journal states, “Ratzinger is said not to have been very surprised. The prefect said that these accusations were known to him, but that reports from former members always have a limited credibility.” The Cardinal then is reported to have added that the group has “a good theological approach” and that one should not “ghettoize them, but, rather, accompany them closely.”

Some people who were familiar with Ratzinger's role in this story told LifeSite that they were concerned about it.

Leven and Wiegelmann ask why it is so that, in spite of these numerous complaints about the Integrated Community – and this over the course of several decades – there was never a proper investigation undertaken, especially in Munich. (The group had different locations, also in the Archdiocese Paderborn, and even in other countries. But the Munich location was crucial.) One source is being quoted as saying that in light of the lack of responsiveness on the part of Munich, “one always had to assume that it had a powerful protector.” As the authors add, representatives of this group at times would even claim in conversations with diocesan authorities in Munich that they had special permissions from Rome, that is to say, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As Pope, Ratzinger published a booklet, in 2005, with some texts relating to discussions and encounters with the Integrated Community, and with a preface by Traudl Wallbrecher (who died in 2016). Among other things, then-Cardinal Ratzinger ordained some of the priests of the group in 1993, and in 1996 he presided over the wedding of Wallbrecher's own son, whose children he was later to baptize. His conversations with journalist Peter Seewald that led to the book Salt of the Earth had been conducted in the Integrated Community's own Villa Cavalletti near Rome in 1996.

Herder Korrespondenz was able to contact Pope Benedict himself, and he said that, as archbishop of Munich, “I saw it as my official task and duty to accompany the IG [Integrierte Gemeinde] with respect to its orthodoxy,” adding that “it is difficult to assess whether these theological guidelines were consistently implemented, in the concrete, daily lives of the IG.”

Benedict explained that in the attempt “to live the things of the daily life integrally out of the Faith,” it also “came to terrible disfigurements of the Faith,” and that this fact “was first not known to me.”

“My information in this field remained meager. I deeply regret that thereby the impression could arise that the archbishop had approved of all the activities of the Community,” he went on to say. The retired pontiff repeated that “my episcopal acts solely aimed at demanding from the IG the full Faith of the Church as concrete goal, and to further it. Obviously, I was not informed about some of the inner life of the IG, or I was even deceived, which I regret.” However, he rejected as “false and freely invented” the claim that he as the Prefect of the CDF had given the group any special permissions.

More revelations are coming to light, not only by way of an official diocesan investigation, but also by way of many testimonies of former members of the Integrated Community and their children.

Herder Korrespondenz questions why there was not earlier undertaken an investigation of this group that had such favors from one of the leading churchmen of the last decades.

LifeSite reached out to one of the authors of the Herder Korrespondenz article, Dr. Benjamin Leven, asking him about the role of Pope Benedict in this matter and his response now. Leven responded:

“According to our research, a high-ranking representative of a German diocese travelled to Rome in 2000 specifically to inform Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about accusations against the Integrated Community. Among other things, this involved reports from ex-members that ordinary confession had been abolished and replaced by public penitential discussions in the context of community meetings. This is a very serious accusation from the perspective of canon law. We have confronted Benedict XVI with our research and he has not denied that this conversation took place. So the Pope emeritus had known about the accusations for a long time, but obviously did not want to believe them. He is said to have said during the conversation that the reports of dropouts always have a limited credibility.”

At the same time, Leven continues, there are “said to have been ‘very controversial discussions’ between the Munich Ordinariate and the Integrated Community, but these apparently remained without consequences.”

Reiterating that there were people who believed that the IG was protected by Ratzinger, Leven explains that “in the Archdiocese of Munich, we were told, the impression at the time was that Ratzinger was the 'protector' of the community.”

Further insisting on the responsibility of the retired Pope, the German journalist states that, while “today, the Pope emeritus sends clear signals of distancing himself, speaking of 'terrible distortions of the faith,'” he still “does not admit to a mistake in dealing with the group, but says that his information remained 'meager' and that he was obviously 'deceived.'”

“We do not know exactly what evidence was presented to him in 2000 – but no one goes unprepared for a conversation with the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” he adds.

Dr. Leven is of the opinion that the reports Ratzinger received from former members of the group had called for a formal investigation. He says: “At least the reports of former members should have given reason for an examination of the accusations. But this is taking place only now, twenty years later. However, the conclusion of the visitation to the archdiocese of Munich and Freising has been delayed. Former members hope not least for a statement from Cardinal Marx on the matter.”

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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.