Berlin, Germany
Reuters

Former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action against clerics in four cases of alleged sexual abuse in his archdiocese when he was Archbishop of Munich, a report found on Thursday, compounding a scandal engulfing the Catholic Church.

Benedict has previously denied wrongdoing over the cases.

Germany Diocese of Munich sex abuse report

Lawyer Ulrich Wastl speaks at a news conference about a survey on allegations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019, in Munich, Germany, on 20th January. PICTURE: Sven Hoppe/Pool via Reuters.

Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl was asked in 2020 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019.

The report, commissioned by the archdiocese, said there were at least 497 victims of abuse, mainly young males. Many other cases had probably not been reported, said the lawyers. 

It also found fault with the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, 68, in two suspected cases. Marx, who is not under any suspicion of having participated in abuse, was due to give a brief statement later on Thursday. 



A spokesperson for the former Pope did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Benedict, now aged 94, has been living in the Vatican since resigning as pontiff in 2013.

In a statement not mentioning the former Pope, the Vatican said it would evaluate the full report and examine its details.

"In reiterating a sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors by clergy, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path it has taken to protect the little ones and guarantee them a safe environment," spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The WSW lawyers were tasked with finding out who knew what happened in the archdiocese and any action they took. Attention has focused on Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, who was Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982.

Pope Benedict XVI final blessing

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful for the last time from the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, on 28th February, 2013. PICTURE: Reuters/ Tony Gentile/File photo.

Presenting the report, lawyer Martin Pusch said Ratzinger had done nothing against the abuse in four cases and there appeared to be no interest shown to the injured parties. 

"In a total of four cases, we have come to the conclusion that the then Archbishop Cardinal Ratzinger can be accused of misconduct in cases of sexual abuse," said Pusch. "He still claims ignorance even if, in our opinion, that is difficult to reconcile with the documentation."

The lawyers also accused Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008, of misconduct in two suspected cases of abuse. Last year, Pope Francis rejected an offer by him to resign as archbishop over the abuse crisis. 

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Following the release of the report, Cardinal Marx, apologised to the victims of historic sexual abuse in his archdiocese.

"As the current archbishop, I apologise on behalf of the archdiocese for the suffering inflicted on people in the area of the church in recent decades," Marx said in a statement.

He said changes had already been started in the last 10 years but more was needed, and stressed the importance of pushing ahead with the "Synodal Path", a movement aimed at giving lay Catholics more influence over the running of the church.

"Now is the time to pick up the momentum that the report gives and to take further steps into the future," said Marx whose offer of resignation last year over the abuse crisis was rejected by Pope Francis.

Marx said the archdiocese would carefully read and analyse the report and present a full response next week.

In 2018, Germany's Catholic Church, which is among the world's wealthiest thanks in part to church tax paid by members, apologised to victims after a report found that clerics had abused around 3,700 victims in the seven decades up to 2014. 

Last year, a report into the archdiocese of Cologne between 1975 and 2018 found 202 abusers and 314 victims, and said Church officials had failed in their duties in some 75 cases.

- Additional reporting by PHILIP PULLELLA in Rome, Italy.