Ex-Pope Benedict admits he was at a meeting about an abusive priest

Retired Pope Benedict XVI admitted on Monday that he attended a meeting in Munich in 1980 where an abusive priest was discussed, saying an earlier denial was the result of a drafting error.

The admission comes days after a report of sexual abuse in Germany blamed Benedict XVI for his inaction against four violent priests when he was Archbishop of Munich.

Lawyers who wrote the report said Benedict XVI had “strictly” denied responsibility in response to the charges.

At a press conference in Munich to present their findings on Thursday, the lawyers disputed a claim by Benedict XVI that he did not recall attending the 1980 meeting to discuss the case of an abusive priest. They said this contradicted the documents in their possession.

On Monday, Benedict XVI’s private secretary confirmed that the ex-pope had finally attended the meeting.

In a statement published and translated by the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost and the Catholic News Agency, Bishop Georg Gänswein said that Benedict XVI “would now like to clarify that, contrary to what was stated during the audience, he has attended the meeting of the ordinariate on January 15, 1980.

“He wishes to emphasize that this was not done in bad faith, but was the result of an error in the editing of his statement,” he added. “He is very sorry for this mistake and he apologizes for this mistake.”

Then Archbishop of Munich and Freising Josef Ratzinger in Munich, November 1981.AFP-Getty Images file

At the meeting, the participants granted a request for accommodation for the priest in question during therapeutic treatment in Munich, according to the statement. They have not decided on any pastoral assignment for him.

The priest was allowed to return to pastoral work, a decision the church says was made by a lower-ranking official without consulting the archbishop, the Associated Press reported.

Gänswein said in the statement that Benedict planned to explain how the error occurred after he finished reviewing the report.

“He carefully reads the statements recorded there, which fill him with shame and pain at the suffering inflicted on the victims,” Gänswein said. A full examination “will take time due to his age and health”, he added.

NBC News has reached out to the Vatican and Gänswein for comment. The Vatican’s internal Vatican News portal reported on the statement provided to the Catholic News Agency in German.

The report on sexual abuse in the Diocese of Munich in Germany, published last Thursday, revealed that Benedict failed to act in four cases between 1977 and 1982 when he was Archbishop of Munich.

“In a total of four cases, we have come to the conclusion that the then archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger, can be accused of misconduct,” said one of the reports’ authors, Martin Pusch, referring in the name of Benedict before he was named pope.

The report also criticized the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, an important ally of Pope Francis.

In a statement, Marx apologized on behalf of his archdiocese “for the suffering inflicted on members of the church over the past decades.”

Marx last year offered to resign over the church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases, saying the scandals had led the church into “a dead end”.

The archdiocese commissioned the report from law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl nearly two years ago, to examine abuses between 1945 and 2019 and whether church officials properly addressed the allegations.

Benedict, now 94, resigned as pontiff in 2013. He served in Munich from 1977 to 1982 before becoming the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later becoming Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican in December 2015. Vincenzo Pinto / AFP – Getty Images file

Last year, Pope Francis said a process of reform was needed and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the abuse crisis. However, he rejected the resignation offered by Marx then.

A report commissioned by the church concluded in 2018 that at least 3,677 people had been abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger and nearly a third served as altar boys.

In cities across the United States, the church has faced an onslaught of child sex abuse accusations in recent decades.

A 2002 investigation by the Boston Globe, later dramatized in the movie “Spotlight,” revealed how pedophile priests were moved by church leaders instead of being held accountable.

Allegations of child sexual abuse have also been made in Australia, South America and a number of European countries over the past decades.

Reuters, The Associated Press and Claudio Lavanga contributed.

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