On Tuesday, retired Pope Benedict XVI asked to be forgiven for any “grievous faults” he may have been guilty of while handling clergy sex abuse cases during his tenure as archbishop.
The Associated Press reports that while he did seek to absolve himself, Pope Benedict did not admit to any specific instance of wrongdoing after an independent report scrutinized his handling of sex abuse cases while he served as the archbishop of Munich, Germany.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” the retired pope said, “All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”
The 94-year-old retired pope made this statement in response to a German law firm’s January report, commissioned by the German Catholic Church, to investigate the handling of sex abuse cases by the Munich Archdiocese between 1945 and 2019.
Pope Benedict XVI served as head of the German archdiocese — as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — from 1977 to 1982.
The law firm’s report faults how Benedict handled four cases of sex abuse while he served as archbishop. It accuses him of misconduct for not restricting the ministry of the priests who were found criminally guilty of sex abuse.
The report also found that Benedict’s predecessors and successors were at fault. It is estimated that there were at least 497 victims of abuse over the decades being investigated. It found there to be at least 235 suspected perpetrators.
Responding to the report, Pope Benedict’s legal team said, “As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts abuse.”
The retired pope’s legal team asserted that the report’s authors provided no evidence that then-Cardinal Ratzinger was aware of the criminal history of the priests in question.
In his personal response, Benedict noted his meeting with abuse victims while serving as pope.
Pope Benedict said, “I have seen first hand the effects of a most grievous fault, and I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen.”
He continued, “As in those meetings, once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow, and my heartfelt request for forgiveness.”
Reflecting on his legacy, he said, “Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life. Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings.”
As head of the Vatican, Pope Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of abuse, instituted policies to punish priests who raped children, and defrocked nearly 400 priests for abuse.