Benedict XVI's response to allegations of abuse during his pontificate

Following the accusations made against Benedict XVI in the report on cases of sexual abuse in the diocese of Munich, the pope emeritus published a letter on 8 February. The document is accompanied by a fact-check text, prepared by four aides, which received less media coverage than the letter itself. We summarize this text below.

In the report on sexual abuse committed in the diocese of Munich-Freising between 1945 and 2019, filed on 20 January by the authors, the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), who prepared it on behalf of of the diocese, it was stated that the then Cardinal Ratzinger – Archbishop of Munich between 1980 and 1980 – acted in four cases “with a lack of sensitivity and willingness to clarify the facts about the indications of possible misconduct, in particular by priests”.

Special attention was drawn to the case of Father “H” (or also “X” ), who in 1980 moved from Essen to Munich to undergo psychiatric treatment. This priest had already been accused, in his diocese of origin, of committing sexual abuse. The report dedicated a special volume of more than 350 pages to him. The question that specifically arose was whether the then Cardinal Ratzinger had attended the meeting, held at the diocesan curia on 15 January 1980, in which the transfer was discussed. In the pope emeritus’ responses to questions previously sent to him by the law firm, Benedict XVI said he was not present. Lawyers claimed that they had evidence that he had attended.

Indeed, on 15 January, the Pope’s secretary emeritus – Monsignor Georg Gänswein – published a statement correcting the data: “Benedict wants to clarify that, contrary to what he stated in his answers to the lawyers’ questions, he attended the meeting of the curia in 15 of January 1982.” Furthermore, the pope emeritus “wants to underline that the factually erroneous statement was not made with malicious intent, but was an oversight in the editing of his statement.” Archbishop Gänswein announced that Benedict XVI would make a lengthy statement explaining how this writing error could have occurred.

This statement was published on February 8 by the Pope Emeritus himself, accompanied by a report prepared by four collaborators – three specialists in Canon Law, in addition to another lawyer –, who explained in detail how the aforementioned “transcription error” occurred. Furthermore, they refuted the other accusations point by point.

How the mistake was made

In the councilors’ document, Canon Law professors Stefan Mückl (Rome) and Helmuth Pree (Munich), together with fellow canon lawyer Stefan Korta (Buchloe) and lawyer Carsten Brennecke (Cologne), expose the accusations made to the Pope Emeritus in the report, to refute them one by one.

To respond to the allegation that Benedict XVI “deliberately gave false witness about his presence at the meeting of the diocesan curia in 15 January de 1980” and therefore would have lied, the counselors explain in detail how the mistake was made. Benedict XVI received a list of questions from the WSW law firm and, in order to answer them, he was given access to files of some 8,000 pages in total. Furthermore, they could only be consulted on screen, without the possibility of storing, printing or copying.

Given the working conditions and the urgency of the deadline, the Pope Emeritus entrusted this work to the aforementioned team; however, access to the files was granted to only one person, Stefan Mückl; “none of the other evaluators were able to see the files,” the check text expressly says. He continues: after Professor Mückl processed the data from the aforementioned file, “Dr. Korta made a transmission error that was not noticed in the following phases of the work”, as he “mistakenly stated that Joseph Ratzinger was absent from the session of the diocesan curia on 15 January 1980”.

The other advisers assumed this erroneous statement, so they did not ask Benedict XVI if it was really true; the pope emeritus, in turn, also did not realize the error, as he had very few days to review the statement that the team of advisors had prepared for him. As a corollary of this detailed explanation, the authors of the text state: “This transcription error cannot be attributed to Benedict XVI as a false statement or a deliberate ‘lie'”.

They add that “nor would meaning Benedict XVI deliberately denying his presence at the meeting”, since his statements are recorded in the minutes of the session, so his presence was “obvious”. In 2010 several press articles were also published in which the presence of the then Cardinal Ratzinger at that meeting was mentioned. Likewise, the biography of Benedict XVI published by Peter Seewald in 2020 states that “in 1982 he limited himself to approving at a meeting from the presbyteral council that said the priest could go to Munich for psychotherapy.”

What did Ratzinger know?

In addition to the error of denying your presence in the session of 20 of January of 1980, the main question is whether the then Archbishop of Munich entrusted this priest with pastoral work, knowing that he had committed abuses – in this case, he would have covered them up.

The counselors’ document states categorically that “Joseph Ratzinger was not aware that Father X had committed abuse, nor that he would be given a pastoral mission.” They refer to the same minutes of the aforementioned session, from which it can be deduced that no decision was taken on the priest’s pastoral in Munich, nor was it mentioned that he had committed sexual abuse: “It was exclusively about the accommodation of the young priest X because I was going to therapy in Munich. This request has been accepted. The reason for the therapy was not stated at the meeting.”

Next, Benedict XVI’s aides address the other accusations made against Benedict XVI in the WSW report, according to which he had knowledge of priests who sexually abused him in three cases. The document states: “In none of the cases examined by the report did Joseph Ratzinger become aware of acts or suspected sexual abuse by priests. The report does not present any evidence to suggest otherwise.”

In the case of “Father X”, “even one of the firm’s lawyers confirmed it at the press conference in 2022 of January 2022, in which the report on the abuses was presented, that there is no evidence that Joseph Ratzinger had this knowledge.

The text refers to the question asked by a journalist, “whether you can assure that Benedict XVI knew this”; then, “the lawyer clearly stated that there is no evidence that Joseph Ratzinger had such knowledge, and that it was only ‘predominantly likely’, according to the subjective opinion of the experts”.

After adding the link to the video that contains the question and the answer, the authors of the text summarize: “The report does not contain any evidence of allegations of misconduct or aiding a cover-up. As Archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger did not participate in the cover-up of the abuses and terrible acts”

The last question addresses da in the check text refers to the following statement in the WSW report: “Benedict XVI played down the exhibitionist acts in his statement”. As proof of this, the report cites a phrase by the pope emeritus referring to another priest: “It is proven that (…) .”

The authors of the text respond: “Benedict XVI did not trivialize exhibitionism in his statement, but explicitly condemned it. The phrase that serves as supposed proof of a trivialization of exhibitionism is taken out of context. In his response, the pope emeritus “clearly states that acts of abuse, including indecent exposure, are ‘terrible’, ‘sinful’, ‘morally reprehensible’ and ‘irreparable'”.

The context a to be taken into consideration is the assessment that Canon Law then made: “Exposure to indecency was not considered a punishable crime according to Canon Law, since the relevant criminal norm did not consider that conduct as a criminal type”. They conclude, therefore, that “Benedict XVI’s stance does not trivialize exhibitionism, but clearly condemns it.”

The summary of Benedict’s advisers concludes with the observation that the fact-checking was elaborated in German, therefore, “if there are linguistic differences in your translation into other languages, the authorized version is the German version”.

© 2022 Aceprensa. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.