POPE Emeritus Benedict XVI admitted on Monday that he gave a false statement during a sexual-abuse probe in the diocese of Munich and Freising, where he was Archbishop from 1977 to 1982. Contrary to his formal testimony, he has now confirmed that he attended a crucial meeting in January 1980 (News, 21 January).
“He would like to make it clear now that, contrary to what was stated at the hearing, he did attend the Ordinariate meeting on January 15, 1980,” his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, told the German Catholic News Agency (KNA) and posted on the Vatican website.
“The [earlier] statement . . . was therefore objectively incorrect. He would like to emphasise that this was not done out of bad faith, but was the result of an oversight in the editing,” said the statement.
At the Ordinariate meeting in January 1980 it was agreed that a sexual-abuse repeat-offender priest from the diocese of Essen, “H”, would be transferred to Munich to receive therapy. In his original statement at the hearing, which was included in the report, the Pope Emeritus denied being present at the meeting. The forensic audit, however, came to the conclusion that he had attended it.
Archbishop Gänswein said that Benedict XVI only received the full 1900-page report on Thursday of last week; he was studying it carefully, and would, at a later stage, issue fuller clarifications to explain how the mistake happened. “He is deeply sorry for this mistake and asks to be forgiven.”
Benedict XVI remained close to his former archdiocese and home diocese, said Archbishop Gänswein, “especially in these days, and is very attached to it in its efforts to clear up the matter. He is especially thinking of the victims who experienced sexual abuse and indifference.”
Since the publication of the report, there have been calls from some German bishops for Benedict XVI to respond. On Thursday of last week, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen called for concrete consequences from the Munich report on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
“We see clearly today that responsibility must be taken — and responsibility is always personal,” he said on KNA. This means “that also the Vatican, that also Pope Benedict addresses this report”.
The new president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, also said that there should be consequences.
“Those responsible in the Catholic Church have not honoured their responsibility. That this abuse report now shows for the umpteenth time. When will consequences finally follow that do justice to the dramatic situation?” Ms Stetter-Karp said on Friday.
She called the fact that the Pope Emeritus apparently still did not admit any misconduct in his statement of 14 December 2021 “frightening”.
In a radio interview, Ms Stetter-Karp said that she no longer believed that the Church could come to terms with the situation on its own. She could imagine “a committee in Parliament”.
The German Government’s Commissioner for Sexual Abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, echoed her sentiments, calling for more action against abuse at the federal and state levels. “Politicians have so far been too reticent when it comes to dealing with sexual abuses in the church sector,” he said.
A criminal law professor, Holm Putzke, a Christian Social Union politician, told news outlets last week that the report could result in criminal charges. “Churches must be treated by law in the same way as any other association in which crime is common practice,” he said. “There is no reason at all for any special consideration.”
On Friday evening, in a sermon in Trier, the chairman of the German Catholic Bishop’s Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, said: “I understand all those who are struggling with the Church and with those of us in charge. And when I consider the facts from Munich, I am ashamed of this Church.”
On Thursday of last week, the current Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Rainer Marx, will address the report which also implicates him of failing to act in two cases. His resignation a year ago was rejected by the Pope. Some observers expect him to offer his resignation again.
Two participants in the Out in Church video, released on Monday. More than 100 officials from the Roman Catholic Church in Germany came out as LGBT, queer, or non-binary on Monday, adding to calls for change. The 125-strong group, which includes priests and workers in education and administration, published a statement calling for an end to the “discrimination and exclusion” that they had experienced