Benedict asks for forgiveness and admits church mistakes in dealing with sexual abuse in Germany

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Pope Emeritus Benedict 16, involved in an investigation into sexual abuse of minors that would have occurred during his tenure as Archbishop of Munich in the 1980s, acknowledged in a letter released this Tuesday (8) that mistakes were made in the way how the church handled the cases.

“I had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” the pope emeritus says in the text, the first personal response to a report on the matter released in January. “I am very sorry for the abuses and mistakes that have taken place in different places during my tenure.”

He further says that he is comforted by God’s forgiveness and that, despite any mistakes he may have made, God will be the final judge. “Soon, I will stand before the final judge of my life,” says Joseph Ratzinger — the name of the pope emeritus.

Benedict, who is 94 years old, claims it is “deeply painful” that an oversight was used to raise doubts about his veracity and label him a liar. He is referring to statements he made last week, through a spokesperson, stating that he had participated in a meeting where the situation of Father Peter Hullermann, accused of sexually abusing dozens of minors, was discussed.

Ratzinger, until then, denied having participated in the meeting. Still, he goes on to say that the meeting did not address Peter’s admission to the archdiocese of Munich, a matter that would have been addressed at another meeting — this one without the pope emeritus. “I am particularly grateful for the trust, support and prayer that Pope Francis has expressed to me personally,” he continued in the letter released Tuesday.

Hullermann initially worked in the diocese of Essen, but, in the face of complaints from family members of the abused children, he was removed. Subsequently, he was accepted into the Archdiocese of Munich, then led by Benedict XVI. Between 1973 and 1996, the priest allegedly abused at least 23 boys aged between 8 and 16 years.

The pope emeritus’ remarks are a response to an independent report that in January accused him of covering up cases of child sexual abuse in Germany’s Catholic Church.

At the time, attorney Martin Pusch, who was part of the investigation, said that Benedict 16 knew the facts and that he could be accused of misconduct in at least four cases, two of which related to abuses committed during his administration and punished by the State. In both, the perpetrators would have remained active in pastoral activity.

Commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to investigate cases in their jurisdiction, the investigation counted at least 497 victims of abuse between 1945 and 2019 and at least 235 suspects.

Investigators point out that there is a chance the number is even higher, as hundreds of other cases may never have been reported to the institution. Most victims were male, and 60% were between 8 and 14 years old.

Speaking about serious faults committed by the faithful, the pope emeritus said in the letter released by the Vatican on Tuesday that everyone is attracted to failure when they neglect or fail to face a necessary responsibility. “Once again I can only express to all victims of sexual abuse my deep shame, my deep sadness and my sincere apology,” he said.

Benedict’s advisers issued a statement last week rejecting the allegations against him. “When he was archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in attempts to hide abuses,” say the four councilors, who characterize the information in the independent report as misleading.

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