Ex-pope to be investigated over failure to prevent sexual abuse
German prosecutors have launched investigations into 42 cases of alleged misconduct by senior Catholic clergymen in the country, including former Pope Benedict XVI, following the release of a bombshell report on child sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
The report, which was released on Thursday, accused the former pontiff of failing to prevent abuse by clerics during his tenure as Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982. Then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his alleged misconduct is in connection with four cases of abuse.
Benedict is one of three German cardinals accused of direct and personal misconduct in the report, which identified nearly 500 victims of sexual abuse and 235 alleged perpetrators dating between 1945 and 2019. His immediate successor in the archdiocese, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, has been linked to 21 instances of potential misconduct, while the current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is accused of formal misconduct in two cases.
The Munich public prosecutor’s investigations “exclusively concern church officials who are still alive,” Anne Leiding, the prosecutor’s office spokesperson, told the dpa news agency. She added that the report’s findings had been “transmitted in a strictly anonymized format.”
If “suspicions arise with regard to potentially criminally relevant behavior on the part of the church leaders in charge,” Leiding said the relevant documents would be requested from the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm that was commissioned by the archdiocese to compile the report. If necessary, they will then be passed on to the respective prosecutor’s offices.
Following the revelations, Pope Francis on Friday pledged “justice” to victims of abuse at the hands of Catholic church members. However, he did not mention the report in his address.
Benedict has long denied accusations by critics of failing to act on abuse, but the lawyers who prepared the report countered some of his claims. While some in the Catholic Church hierarchy have reportedly called on Benedict to “take a stand,” his supporters, including Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, have apparently said that he “did not knowingly do anything wrong” and implied that the former pontiff was being targeted for his orthodox stance on religious doctrine.
Meanwhile, federal government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said it had been “stunned” by “the extent of abuse and subsequent handling of these acts” in the report, adding that a “full clarification and reappraisal” was “now all the more urgent.”