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Benedict XVI’s apology met with anger and disappointment in Germany

11 February 2022

Letter from Pope Emeritus on abuse has legal rebuttal attached


An archive photo of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his visit to Berlin, Germany, in 2011

An archive photo of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his visit to Berlin, Germany, in 2011

POPE Emeritus Benedict XVI has written an open letter of apology in general terms to victims of abuse. In a lawyers’ addendum, however, specific accusations against him in last month’s report on sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Munich & Freising during his archiepiscopate are contested (News, 28 January).

“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,” the open letter, released on Tuesday, says.

As Cardinal Ratzinger, he served as Archbishop of Munich & Freising for five years, from 1977 to 1982. In his apology, he writes: “I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. 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 victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy and I feel great sorrow for each individual case.”

The detailed addendum, by three professors of canon law and a civil lawyer, described as “Analysis of the Facts by collaborators of Benedict XVI”.

The letter received a lukewarm reception from bishops in Germany, while victims’ organisations expressed disappointment, anger, and dismay, and accused the former Cardinal Ratzinger of still not taking direct responsibility for abuses there.

The Bishop of Limburg, the Most Revd Georg Bätzing, who chairs the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, tweeted: “Pope emeritus Benedict had promised to speak out. Now he has kept his promise. I am grateful for that and he deserves respect.”

The present Archbishop of Munich & Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, also welcomed the letter, but emphasised that he took very seriously the report, “which also deals with personal and institutional responsibility, especially with regard to the leadership level”, and that he and the diocese would act on the recommendations, together with victim organisations.

A member of the victims’ advisory board of the archdiocese, Richard Kick, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that those affected by sexual abuse were being fobbed off, while the Pope Emeritus was glorifying himself. He said that Pope Benedict’s statement had caused him “deep indignation and even more frustration”. He pointed out that he had assumed no responsibility for cases in which serial abusers had been reinstated in pastoral care.

A spokesman for the grass-roots organisation We Are Church, Christian Weisner, said in a statement on its website that the former Cardinal Ratzinger still saw himself as a victim. “He is still not ready to stand by the non-delegable overall responsibility that a bishop has. The fact that he is still not ready to make a personal confession of guilt to those affected by pastor H./X. is extremely regrettable and will also disappoint many of his followers,” the statement said.

The organisation acknowledged that Pope Benedict did more than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, against sexualised violence in the Church, “but as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome in 2001, Ratzinger placed crimes in this area worldwide under the ‘papal secret’ and brought all cases to Rome.”

The statement concluded: “One can also call this systematic cover-up and obstruction of justice. It was not until 2010 that Ratzinger allowed cooperation with law enforcement agencies. Only Pope Francis lifted the ‘papal secret’.”

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