A closer look at Munich charges against former Pope [News Analysis]
January 24, 2022
An independent investigation of sex-abuse cases in the Munich archdiocese produced criticism of Pope-emeritus Pope Benedict XVI for his handling of several cases. But a closer look at the report shows that the evidence of negligence by the former Pontiff was slim.
Headlines about the report, issued last week by a prominent German law firm, almost invariably highlighted the failures of then-Cardinal Ratzinger. But few if any of the reporters who wrote those stories had time to digest the full contents of the report, which ran to over 1,000 pages— or even the 72 pages that covered the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger, from 1977 to 1982.
The former Pontiff is, of course, a more prominent target for criticism. And the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is more popular with the media, and perhaps therefore drew less criticism for his reported instances of neglect. Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, whose tenure came between the two, was almost completely ignored in media coverage, although his tenture was reported violations more numerous.
But Michael Hesemann, a German Church expert, has studied the report in detail— particularly in its coverage of the Ratzinger years— and noted that among the four cases in which the investigating commission concluded that the future Pope was guilty of a “failure to act,” not one involved alleged abuse that occurred during his tenure as archbishop, and not one has been linked to future abuse allegations. In other words, in the four cases cited against Cardinal Ratzinger, none involves a victim!
Balance these four cases, in which the report criticized Cardinal Ratzinger, against the 61 other cases, in which he responded appropriately to abuse reports:
- A priest who was convicted of abuse long before Cardinal Ratzinger arrived, having finished a prison term, received permission to return to Munich to live in retirement. He was not given a pastoral assignment.
- Another priest who was previously convicted returned to pastoral work in Munich under Cardinal Ratzinger. He was re-arrested for exhibitionism, and stripped of his pastoral assignment. He remained in residence in Munich, where he was receiving psychiatric counseling. He later was employed as a religion teacher in a private school, apparently without the knowledge of the archbishop.
- A bishop in another country asked for accommodation for his nephew, a priest, who would be studying in Munch. Cardinal Ratzinger obliged, finding a home for the priest, evidently as a favor to a colleague. There is no evidence that the bishop informed the cardinal that his nephew had been found guilty of sexual abuse. When the priest was observed skinny-dipping, he was first barred from pastoral work, then ordered to leave the archdiocese.
- A priest was been charged with— and later would be convicted of— taking photos of young girls in sexual poses. Cardinal Ratzinger removed him from parish work and assigned him to a chaplaincy in a nursing home.
The record is not perfect— especially by today’s standards. But Cardinal Ratzinger’s actions and inactions were comparable to those of countless other bishops, in many other dioceses, during the years when he served in Munich. His leadership there came long before the “Dallas Charter” introduced a new approach to sex-abuse cases in 2002, which eventually became the model for worldwide policies. In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger’s years in Munich passed even before the 1983 Code of Canon Law set new standards for the handling of the most serious clerical crimes, including sexual abuse.
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