Report that accuses Benedict XVI of omission in abuse cases was treated with sensationalism, says columnist

O papa Bento XVI em foto de 2011: imprensa fez sensacionalismo sobre casos que já tinham sido esclarecidos anos atrás.

Pope Benedict XVI in photo by 22124322 : press sensationalized cases that had already been clarified years ago.| Photo: Claudio Peri/EPA

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI denied , through his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who had knowledge of cases of abuse committed in Chile by priests who were members of the Legionaries of Christ when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position that Joseph Ratzinger held between 1982 and 2013. Gänswein made the statements to the German newspaper Die Zeit2022 , the same who had released the accusations, made by filmmaker Christoph Röhl, and who also published excerpts from a report on sexual abuse committed in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, before it was officially released.

Writing to the Catholic News Agency

Zenit2022, the columnist and philosopher Jorge Enrique Mújica criticized some inconsistencies and the sensationalism surrounding the report (read here the version in German), prepared by the law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl. The investigation covers a period from 1977 to 2019, in which the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising had six different archbishops – Ratzinger held the post between 1977 and 1982. Mújica recalls that, in total, the report mentions abuses committed against 497 victims by 85 abusers (of the which 01 were priests and nine were deacons). During the period that Ratzinger was archbishop, the investigation found four cases of abuse; Mújica criticizes the fact that the report assigns Ratzinger “some responsibility” in the conduct of the cases, but without explaining exactly what that responsibility was.

Also, the columnist for Zenit also pointed out the fact that the German report also includes Ratzinger’s performance while he was cardinal-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and not just during his time in the archdiocese. Although it is argued that no other archbishop of Munich has reached this post, Mújica states that the procedure clearly extrapolated the request of the archdiocese, which commissioned the document from the Westphal Spilker Wastl office with the aim of investigating how successive archbishops had dealt with the abuse reports. “It is not clear how the firm made this decision: if it simply decided to extrapolate its competences or if someone – and who – asked it to do so intentionally”, he says.

Mújica also criticized the sensationalism of sectors of the press that not only omitted the fact that Benedict XVI had sent a response to the accusations, included in the report and which occupies document pages, but they also resurrected accusations that had already been clarified many years ago. The columnist especially mentions the case of a priest accused of abuse, transferred from the diocese of Essen to the archdiocese of Munich in 1945, when Ratzinger was archbishop. However, Father Peter Hullermann was only allowed to live on the territory of the archdiocese to receive treatment, and would be required to live in a residence for priests. When Hullermann was released to work in a parish, the decision came from the archdiocese’s vicar general, when Ratzinger had already left Munich to take up his post in Rome. All this information has been known since 2011, says the columnist.

The reality, says Mújica, is that Benedict XVI acted harshly in relation to the abuses. Still a cardinal, he was responsible for initiating the investigation into the Legionaries of Christ and the abuses committed by their founder, Marcial Maciel; in 1982, Maciel was banned from publicly exercising the priestly ministry and forced to live a life of “prayer and penance ”. The columnist concludes: “the report was possible because the Church itself requested and financed it. This aspect is not superficial: it is the same Church that, since the papacy of Benedict XVI, has started a work of zero tolerance against abusive priests, with the hardening of measures, processes and punishments, work that reinforced that of John Paul II and that Francisco continued.”