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.
Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was asked 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.
A spokesman 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.
The lawyers were tasked with finding out who knew what 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.
Presenting the report for WSW, lawyer Martin Pusch said Ratzinger had done nothing against the abuse in four cases.
“In a total of four cases, we reached a consensus that there was a failure to act,” said Pusch, adding the former pope had “strictly” denied responsibility in response to the accusations.
Former Pope Benedict XVI has also denied that he was given information about child abuse in the Legionaries of Christ religious order when he was a top Vatican official, in a case that has tarnished the reputation of his predecessor, John Paul II.
Founded by Mexican cleric Marcial Maciel in 1941, the Legionaries of Christ order was heavily favoured during the conservative papacy of John Paul II, who praised Maciel’s work in reaching out to and evangelising young people.
Maciel turned out to be one of the Catholic Church’s most notorious paedophiles, even abusing children he had fathered secretly with at least two women while living a double life and being feted by the Vatican and Church conservatives.
The former pope’s denial was made to Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper in response to allegations it had published from filmmaker Christoph Roehl, who said he had found evidence that two Chilean priests had presented the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with a dossier listing abuse victims in the order.
At the time, Ratzinger was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and John Paul II’s right-hand man, the Polish pope’s ideological and doctrinal enforcer.
But Benedict, 94, who retired in 2013, denied this had happened.
“No, this is not correct,” his long-time personal secretary and fellow German cleric Georg Gaenswein said in a statement to Die Zeit on behalf of Benedict.
Although allegations were made against Maciel as early as 1954, the Vatican and the order only began slowly acknowledging Maciel’s abuse in 2006, when Benedict, as newly-elected pope, ordered him to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence.”
Maciel died in 2008, aged 87. Pope Francis, Benedict’s successor, in 2020 told the Legionaries they still had a long road of reform ahead of them.
John Paul II was made a saint in 2014, nine years after his death, effectively a declaration by the Church that his life was so exemplary that he was sure to be in heaven. Allegations that he failed to discipline abusers have tarnished that legacy, with many now saying his canonisation was too hasty.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Toby Chopra
A file photo of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (L). EPA/ETTORE FERRARI