IN THE end, it was a reference to his long-time nemesis, the dissident theologian Dr Hans Küng, that undermined the former Pope Benedict’s defence. Lawyers investigating the treatment of paedophile priests in the diocese of Munich and Freising, in Germany — where Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was Archbishop from 1977-1981 — say that the reference disproves the former Pope’s denial that he was at a crucial meeting.
The law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl on Thursday produced nearly 1900 pages of evidence in its report Sexual Abuse of Minors and Adult Protected Persons by Clergy as well as Full-Time Staff in the Area of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945-2019. One of the partners, Dr Marion Westphal, said at the start of the press conference that the lawyers have reassessed their earlier report in 2010, when Benedict XVI was still Pope, thanks mainly to new survivor interviews and statements.
Overall, the law firm found 497 cases of abuse and identified 235 abusers, 173 of whom were priests plus nine deacons. Half the victims were male, two-thirds of whom were boys aged between eight and 14.
In the new report, investigators accuse the Pope Emeritus of four instances of knowingly placing paedophile priests in parishes while he was Archbishop. Pope Benedict has denied the allegations — the report contains an 83-page signed appendix that repeats the denials. The lawyers, however, argue that their forensic dissection of inconsistencies in his submissions reveal that he had contradicted himself.
In one instance, they said, “to our surprise”, Pope Benedict had denied having taken part in a diocesan meeting on 15 January 1980, in which the decision was made to admit a known paedophile priest, “H”, into the diocese after he was transferred from Essen.
According to investigative journalists from Correctiv, and BR (the Bavarian broadcaster), in a report broadcast earlier this week, H’s move was followed by renewed abuses in Bavarian parishes, and, eventually, a conviction by a secular court for multiple child-sexual abuse in 1986.
The lawyers discovered that Cardinal Ratzinger was quoted directly in the minutes of the meeting — a meeting that he claimed he never attended.
At Thursday’s press conference, Dr Ulrich Wastl said that, even if one still had doubts about Pope Benedict’s presence at the 15 January meeting, the wording of the minutes spoke for itself. He held up a copy of the minutes, and read: “The Cardinal reports on the funeral service in Berlin on the occasion of the death of Cardinal Bengsch, and informs about the last attempt of Bishop Moser and Pope John Paul II to settle the case of Professor Küng in a good spirit. He also reports on the conversation that Pope John Paul II had with some German bishops on December 28 1979, concerning the case of Professor Küng.”
Dr Wastl continued: “Who else than Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI should have reported in the ordinariate meeting about these church-politically explosive topics dealt with at the highest level? According to the opinion of the experts, it can only have been Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, as this also corresponds with the minutes.”
He concluded that the claim that the Pope Emeritus was not at the meeting “appears to be implausible”.
Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the survivors’ initiative Eckiger Tisch (“Angular Table”, a sardonic response to official offers of round-table discussions with survivors), called the report a “historic shock” to the Church.
The report dismantles attempts made in 2010 by others to take the blame and protect the then Pope. “This building of lies, what was erected to protect Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, here in Munich, that has collapsed today,” Mr Katsch told a press agency. “Everyone who has just witnessed this here now must realise that this system has come to its end.”
On Thursday evening, the German broadcasters ran special programmes on the findings. The magazine Stern carried the headline: “Pope Benedict contradicts himself — low point for Catholic Church,” while Der Spiegel said: “1900 Pages of Shame.”
On Wednesday, the day before the report was released, the German Bishops’ Advisory Board for Victims of Abuse issued a statement accepting that, in many instances, the protection of perpetrators had taken precedence over the protection of victims. “Seeing and judging is over: it is time to act — finally to act,” it said.