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Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger leads a final Mass for papal election before the start of the conclave in Saint Peter's Basilica April 18, 2005 in Vatican City. Alessia Giuliani-Pool/Getty Images

MUNICH (LifeSiteNews) — State prosecutors in Germany have announced they have dropped investigations into alleged misconduct on the part of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with regards to handling of sex abuse cases.

In a statement issued March 21, the Munich public prosecutor’s office announced that as of early March, the investigations had been “discontinued” into whether or not church officials in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising had assisted priests in covering up instances sexual abuse. 

Six cases were under examination regarding whether “an ecclesiastical officer could have aided and abetted, through a personnel decision, an act of abuse committed later by a priest that was not yet time-barred.”

The process was born as a result of the January 2022 report into cases of historic sex abuse, which was conducted by Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), and accused then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, who led the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1977–1982, of having mishandled clerical sex abuse cases.

READ: Anger in Germany as new report accuses Benedict XVI of mishandling sexual abuse cases

Also implicated were Cardinals Julius Döpfner, Friedrich Wetter (Ratzinger’s successor), and the current incumbent Reinhard Marx. The former archdiocesan vicar general Gerhard Gruber was further named.

According to the state’s prosecutors, the “investigations did not give rise to sufficient suspicion of criminal activity on the part of the personnel officers, which is why the preliminary proceedings were successively discontinued.”

In the instances in which Ratzinger was named among the accused, the prosecutors wrote that “the investigations led to the conclusion that either no principal offense eligible for assistance could be proven or that such an offense could no longer be prosecuted due to the occurrence of the statute of limitations.”

Another instance, regarding “Priest G.” – who was accused of abusing underage boys – the two archdiocesan officials were also deemed not to have acted criminally, as there was “no evidence” they had done so. These were Cardinal Wetter – who led the archdiocese after Ratzinger from 1982 to 2007 – and Vicar General Gruber. 

The prosecutor’s office wrote: “It cannot be ascertained that Cardinal Wetter was already aware of the allegations of abuse beforehand and nevertheless kept the priest on duty. In the case of Vicar General Gruber, who at the time of the renewed acts of abuse had already been out of office for around ten years, it cannot be established that he intentionally contributed to the sexual abuse that took place much later.”

In response to the decision to end the investigation, the archdiocese welcomed the news, reiterating “their unconditional willingness to educate and their full willingness to cooperate and support in any state investigation.”

The archdiocesan statement called on anyone with “evidence of abuse” to come forward to the relevant officials.

Background: Munich sex abuse report incriminated Ratzinger

In the 2022 report which sparked the investigations, Ratzinger was accused of covering up abuse by Father Peter Hullermann (identified as H in the report). 

In the 82-page response Ratzinger’s team provided to the over 1,000-page report, the late 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. 

READ: Pope Benedict responds to historic sex abuse report, rejects ‘any cover-up of acts of abuse’

However, as LifeSiteNews has noted, following the report’s publication, Benedict 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, 2022, 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.

He then penned a follow up letter on February 6, 2022, in which he responded properly to the allegations made against him by the Munich 2022 report. Benedict addressed the speculation that his “editorial” mistake with regard to the 1980 meeting was actually a deliberate cover-up.

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.

Accompanying this letter was a three-page analysis authored by canon lawyers and an attorney, who defended Benedict’s statement. They stated that Ratzinger was unaware of Hullermann being an “abuser” at the January 1980 meeting, and that the meeting actually decided not to assign Hullermann to pastoral activity.