Probe finds ex-pope Benedict failed to act in German abuse cases

Former pope Benedict XVI knowinglyn failed to take action to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in Munich in the 1980s, according to a damning independent report published Thursday that risks shattering the ex-pontiff's reputation.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI at Munich Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool | Sven Hoppe

Benedict — who was the archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982 — has “strictly” denied any responsibility, said lawyer Martin Pusch of Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), which was commissioned by the church to carry out the probe.

But the experts do not consider this credible, Pusch said.

Benedict, 94 — whose civilian name is Josef Ratzinger — in 2013 became the first pope to step down from the role in 600 years and now lives a secluded life in a former convent inside the grounds of the Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni emphasised that it must still examine the report, “the contents of which are not currently known”, but reiterated the Vatican’s “sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics”.

Two of the cases where Benedict allegedly failed to act involved clergymen who had committed several proven acts of abuse but were allowed to continue with pastoral duties, Pusch said.

An interest in the abuse victims was “not recognisable” in Benedict, he said.

In one case, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.

Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history and continued to reoffend for many years.

READ ALSO: Ex-pope Benedict under scrutiny in German child abuse probe

‘Defensive attitude’

Pusch said Benedict had initially shown a “defensive attitude” when responding to questions for the investigation. However, he later changed his attitude and gave a detailed written statement.

The Munich report, which examined the years 1945 to 2019, found indications of sexually abusive behaviour in 235 people it investigated, including 173 priests.

The lawyers also accused Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, of failing to act in two cases of suspected abuse.

Marx had last year offered Pope Francis his resignation over the church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in its handling of child sex abuse scandals.

However, Pope Francis rejected his offer, urging the cardinal known for his reforms to stay and help shape change in the Catholic Church.

‘Frightening insights’

The reformist Catholic group “Wir sind Kirche” (We are Church) said the report offered “frightening insights into the lack of sense of responsibility of clerical office holders”.

It called on Benedict to “face up to his ecclesiastical and moral responsibility instead of making more and more denials that are not very credible”.

The Catholic Church has been embroiled in a series of sexual abuse scandals in countries around the world, including Australia, Chile, France, Ireland and the United States.

In Germany, a string of reports in recent years have exposed widespread abuse of children by clergymen.

READ ALSO: German bishop resigns over Catholic church’s ‘failure’ in abuse scandal

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen in the country had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

However, the real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

Another report published last year exposed the scope of abuse committed by priests in Germany’s top diocese of Cologne.

The abuse scandal has thwarted the Catholic Church’s efforts to spearhead broad reforms in Germany.

It counted 22.2 million members in 2020 and is still the largest religion in the country, but the number is 2.5 million fewer than in 2010 when the first major wave of paedophile abuse cases came to light.

Payouts for victims of abuse were increased in 2020 to up to 50,000 euros ($56,700), from around 5,000 euros previously, but campaigners say the sum is still inadequate.

Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the Eckiger Tisch victims’ group, called the report “shocking”.

It was “impressive and very moving” to see the lawyers “take apart this edifice of lies that has been erected to protect Benedict XVI”, he said.

By Ralf ISERMANN with Femke COLBORNE in Berlin

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German police foil teenage school ‘Nazi attack’

German investigators said Thursday they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a "Nazi terror attack".

German police foil teenage school 'Nazi attack'

“The police prevented a nightmare,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state.

Police in the city of Essen had stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

Some of the pipe bombs found contained nails, but officers did not find any detonators, Reul said.

There are “indications suggesting the young man has serious psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts,” said Reul.

Material found so far in the suspect’s room include his own writing which constituted “a call for urgent help by a desperate young man.”

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalisation and hate,” said NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanked police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack”.

The suspect is being questioned while investigators continue to comb his home for evidence.

Investigators believe that he was acting alone.

They had been tipped off by another teen who informed them that the young man “wanted to place bombs in his school”, located about 800 metres from his home.

The school, as well as another institution, were closed on Thursday as investigators undertook fingertip searches as the locations to ensure that no bombs had been placed on site.

‘Neo-Nazi networks’ 

Germany has been rocked by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

Large amounts of material championing conspiracy theories and far-right ideology were subsequently found in the gunman’s apartment.

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants and investigators in April carried out country-wide raids against “neo-Nazi networks”, arresting four suspects.

The suspects targeted in the raids were believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 group named after theorder in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic) Division or the online propaganda group Sonderkommando 1418.

German authorities were also battling to clean extremists from within their ranks. Last year, the state of Hesse said it was dissolving Frankfurt’s elite police force after several officers were accused of participating in far-right online chats and swapping neo-Nazi symbols.