Ex-Pope Benedict XVI appealed for forgiveness for clergy child sex abuse perpetrated on his watch on Tuesday, but aides dismissed suspicions of a cover-up while he was archbishop of Munich.
“I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” the 94-year-old wrote in a letter released last month in response to a German probe into his handling of paedophile priests in the 1980s.
“In the Catholic Church, I had a lot of obligations. My anguish is compounded by the abuses and mistakes that transpired in those several locations throughout the course of my mission.”
When he was archbishop of Munich in the 1980s, the former pontiff was accused in January of intentionally failing to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse.
Benedict, who is in poor health, enlisted the support of a team of aides to reply to the findings of legal firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW), which had been tasked by the archdioceses of Munich and Freising to investigate abuse claims from 1945 to 2019.
“as an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse” his aides said in a statement released by the Vatican accompanied his letter on Tuesday.
From 1977 through 1982, the former pope, whose birth name is Joseph Ratzinger, was the archbishop of Munich.
In one example, a now-famous paedophile priest called Peter Hullermann was sent to Munich from Essen, where he was suspected of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old kid.
Benedict’s staff has previously confessed to inadvertently providing false material to the report writers by denying Benedict’s presence in a Hullermann meeting in 1980.
They disputed that any decision regarding reassigning the priest to pastoral responsibilities was made at that meeting, and maintained on Tuesday that the abuse was not mentioned.
“In none of the cases investigated by the expert study, Joseph Ratzinger was aware of or suspected of sexual abuse committed by priests. There is no proof to the contrary in the expert report “According to the statement.
Benedict said in his letter that the “deeply hurtful” of his presence at the 1980 meeting “oversight” which he described as “was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar”
Benedict, who resides in a former monastery within the Vatican walls, said he was “particularly grateful for the confidence, support and prayer that Pope Francis personally expressed to me”
The Vatican defended the former pope last month, saying he “fought” sexual abuse, while Pope Francis has remained mute publicly.
Prior to his election as Pope, Benedict was the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which gave him final authority over abuse investigations.
He made a direct allusion to his worsening health in the letter, stating that “quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life”
“As I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling,” he stated, but he was “of good cheer” as the end approached.