ROME — Two weeks after a report found that retired Pope Benedict XVI had mishandled four cases involving the sexual abuse of minors while he was an archbishop in Germany decades ago, he acknowledged on Tuesday that “abuses and errors” had taken place under his watch, but denied any misconduct.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” Benedict said in his response. “All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate. Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable.”
The accusations hit at the top of the Roman Catholic Church, which has been struggling to deal with a sexual abuse crisis for 20 years. During his eight-year papacy, Benedict added, he had met with dozens of abuse victims during many apostolic trips and had “seen at first hand the effects of a most grievous fault.”
In an analysis accompanying the letter, however, four legal experts who had assisted the retired pope wrote that the report, drafted by a Munich law firm that carried out the investigation, “contains no evidence for an allegation of misconduct or conspiracy in any cover-up” on Benedict’s part.
Benedict, 94, was responding to a report commissioned by the German archdiocese that investigated how the church had handled cases of sexual abuse between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, at the time Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.
The report said at least 497 victims of abuse had been identified over the 74-year period it examined, and found that Benedict had mishandled four cases during his nearly five years as archbishop. Benedict’s legal experts said in their analysis that the investigators had not shown that Benedict knew of the criminal history of any of the four priests in question.
In his response on Tuesday, Benedict took specific issue with one case involving a pedophile priest. The lawyers who conducted the investigation found that Benedict had lied to them during the course of their inquiry, when he denied that he had attended a Jan. 15, 1980, meeting in the diocese in which the priest’s case had been discussed. Minutes of that meeting showed that Benedict had been present.
Days after the report was issued, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s personal secretary, admitted Benedict was at the meeting and said the claim to the contrary was an error introduced in the editing process for the retired pope’s 82-page answer to the Munich law firm. On Tuesday, Benedict described it as an honest mistake that had been interpreted with undue harshness.
“To me it proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar,” he said.