ROME (AP) — Retired Pope Benedict XVI asked forgiveness Tuesday for any “grievous faults” in his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, but denied any personal or specific wrongdoing after an independent report criticized his actions in four cases while he was archbishop of Munich, Germany.
Benedict’s lack of a personal apology or admission of guilt immediately riled sex abuse survivors, who said his response reflected the Catholic hierarchy’s “permanent” refusal to accept responsibility for the rape and sodomy of children by priests.
Benedict, 94, was responding to a Jan. 20 report from a German law firm that had been commissioned by the German Catholic Church to look into how cases of sexual abuse were handled in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.
The report faulted Benedict’s handling of four cases during his time as archbishop, accusing him of misconduct for having failed to restrict the ministry of the four priests even after they had been convicted criminally. The report also faulted his predecessors and successors, estimating
there had been at least 497 abuse victims over the decades and at least 235 suspected perpetrators.
The Vatican on Tuesday released a letter that Benedict wrote to respond to the allegations, alongside a more technical reply
from his lawyers who had provided an initial 82-page response to the law firm about his nearly five-year tenure in Munich. The conclusion of Benedict’s lawyers was resolute: “As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse,” they wrote. They criticized the report’s authors for misinterpreting their submission, and asserted that the authors provided no evidence that Benedict was aware of the criminal history of any of the four priests.
Benedict’s response was more nuanced and spiritual, though he went on at length to thank his legal team before even addressing the allegations or the victims of abuse.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” the retired pope said in his letter. “All the greater is my pain for
the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”
Benedict issued what he called a “confession,” though he didn’t confess to any specific fault. He recalled
that daily Mass begins with believers confessing their sins and asking forgiveness for their faults and even their “grievous faults.” Benedict noted that in his meetings with abuse victims while he was pope, “I have seen at firsthand the effects of a most grievous fault.
“And I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn
into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen,” he wrote. “As in those meetings, once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness.”
His response drew swift criticism from Eckiger Tisch, a group representing German clergy abuse survivors, who said it
fit into the church’s “permanent relativizing
on matters of abuse — wrongdoing and mistakes took place, but no one takes concrete responsibility,”
the group said.
“Joseph Ratzinger can’t bring himself simply to state that he is sorry not to have done more to protect the children entrusted to his church,” the group said.