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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, flanked by Prefect of the Pontifical House and his former personal secretary Georg Ganswein, April 2014.Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written a personal letter responding to a sex abuse report from the diocese of Munich and Freising, which accused him of having failed to act over child abuse cases, as his advisers rejected the claims that he lied and covered up four instances of sex abuse from 1977 to 1982.

The letter, released February 8 and dated February 6, was the former archbishop of Munich’s first personal response to a January 20 sex abuse report conducted by Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), which implicated not only then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, but also Cardinals Julius Döpfner, Friedrich Wetter, and the current incumbent Reinhard Marx, of having mishandled clerical sex abuse cases.

Background: Munich sex abuse report incriminated Ratzinger

In the recently-released report, Ratzinger, who led the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982, was accused of covering up abuse by Fr. Peter Hullermann (identified as H in the report). In the 82-page response Ratzinger’s team provided to the 1,900-page report, the emeritus Pope was cited as saying he was not present in a 1980 meeting during which Hullermann was welcomed into the diocese, after having been suspended by the Diocese of Essen over abuse allegations in 1979. 

However, as LifeSiteNews has noted, following the report’s publication, Ratzinger had to retract this statement as the minutes of the 1980 meeting showed that he had been present. 

As Pope Benedict stated on January 24, 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 at the January 15 meeting, that meeting did not decide to give Hullermann pastoral duties, something which happened at a subsequent meeting February 1.

Benedict: ‘An oversight occurred’ when giving information to WSW report

Now, the emeritus pontiff’s letter comes as a response not only to the WSW report, but also to growing rumors and media articles which have called into question his trustworthiness, following his contradictory statements over the 1980 meeting. 

As some had suggested, Ratzinger’s contribution to the WSW report was not his own work, but had been drawn up by a “small group of friends who selflessly compiled on my behalf my 82-page testimony for the Munich law firm, which I would have been unable to write by myself.” 

These friends examined the nearly 8,000 pages of documentation, along with helping emeritus Benedict XVI “to study and analyze the almost 2,000 pages of expert opinions. The results will be published subsequently as an appendix to my letter.” 

In the midst of this task, “an oversight occurred regarding my participation in the chancery meeting of 15 January 1980,” wrote Benedict XVI. 

The “error … was not intentionally willed and I hope may be excused,” wrote Benedict. The former archbishop of Munich attested that the “error” should “in no way … detract” from the “care and diligence” with which his friends drew up his submission to the WSW report.

“To me it proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar,” wrote Benedict. 

Accompanying rebuttal to WSW report’s accusations 

The Pope’s letter was accompanied by a three-page analysis drawn up by three canonists and an attorney, widely and firmly rebutting the accusations made against Ratzinger in the report.

The analysis stated that Ratzinger was not aware of “Priest X” (Hullermann) being an “abuser” at the January 1980 meeting, and that the meeting actually decided not to assign Hullermann to pastoral activity. 

As for Ratzinger’s previous denial of attending that meeting, the experts’ analysis observed that he did not “lie or knowingly make a false statement” in his former denial of having been present. 

Confirming Benedict XVI’s statement that the erroneous testimony was made by one of his assistants when examining the minutes of the January 1980 meeting, the analysis stated:

Benedict XVI, due to the great haste with which he had to verify his memory in a few days, given the time limits imposed by the experts, did not notice the error, but trusted the alleged transcription of his absence.

The analysis additionally answers the allegations regarding the three other abuse cases which Ratzinger was accused of having mishandled or covered up, firmly rejecting any instance of cover-up by the then-archbishop of Munich.

“As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse … the memoir of Benedict XVI did not minimize exhibitionism, but clearly and explicitly condemned it,” the experts stated.

For an extensive examination of the accusations made against Ratzinger, see Maike Hickson’s report as well as the experts’ analysis.

‘Heartfelt request for forgiveness’

While rejecting the claim that he had lied in his testimony, Pope Emeritus Benedict nevertheless offered his “profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness” to “all the victims of sexual abuse.” 

Referencing his former “great responsibilities,” the 94-year-old pope emeritus expressed his “deepest sympathy” for “each individual case” of sexual abuse. 

Benedict also referred to the penitential act of the Novus Ordo Mass, saying that the words “cause me to question if today too I should speak of a most grievous fault.” 

“And they tell me with consolation that however great my fault may be today, the Lord forgives me, if I sincerely allow myself to be examined by him, and am really prepared to change,” he added.

“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” Benedict added, as recent pictures have shown him appearing significantly more frail. While admitting to having “great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer,” he added, due to his trust in God as “just judge.”