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Report: Now-Retired Pope Benedict Failed to Act in Child Sex Abuse Cases in Germany

FILE - Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sits in St. Peter's Basilica as he attends a ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year, at the Vatican, Dec. 8, 2015.
FILE - Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sits in St. Peter's Basilica as he attends a ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year, at the Vatican, Dec. 8, 2015.

Now-retired Pope Benedict XVI neglected to act against clerics who allegedly committed four acts of sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising while he was serving as archbishop between 1977 and 1982, according to a report released Thursday.

The Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl produced the report after the archdiocese asked it to investigate allegations of abuses that occurred between 1945 and 2019 in the archdiocese, a religious territory of the Roman Catholic Church in Bavaria, Germany.

The report concluded at least 497 victims, mainly young males, were sexually abused during that period, and the firm’s lawyers said many other cases were probably never reported.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Vatican would not comment on the report until it had read it in its entirety and could give the comments “careful and detailed examination.” But he again expressed the Vatican’s remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics.

The law firm investigated who knew about the four sexual abuse allegations in question and any actions taken in response. When presenting the report, Attorney Martin Pusch said that Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, did nothing about the allegations when he was archbishop.

"In a total of four cases, we came to the conclusion that the then-archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger, can be accused of misconduct," said Pusch. He also said the former pope had "strictly" denied responsibility in response to the accusations.

Two cases where Benedict allegedly failed to act involved clergymen who committed several indisputable acts of sex abuse but were still allowed to perform pastoral duties, Pusch said. Benedict’s concern for the victims was “not recognizable,” Pusch said.

Benedict retired in 2013, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to do so.

Priest Peter Hullermann, now an infamous pedophile, was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany, where he had been accused of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy but was still reassigned.

Hullermann, an example of many sexual abuse perpetrators in the Church, was convicted of molesting even more children and sentenced only to a suspended prison term in 1986, by which time Benedict had been transferred to the Vatican.

Hullermann continued to work with children for many years, even after the convictions for sex abuse.

The report also accused current Munich and Freising Archbishop Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a prominent ally of Pope Francis, in two cases.

Germany’s Catholic Church has been the subject in a series of reports in recent years that have revealed widespread sexual abuse of children by clergymen.

A separate study commissioned in 2018 by the German Bishops’ Conference concluded that 1,670 clergymen in Germany had sexually attacked 3,677 children between 1946 and 2014, although many believe the number of victims is much higher.

Information from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse was used in this report.

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