Former pope asks for forgiveness over child abuse scandal

Vatican issues letter by Benedict XVI following a German report into abuse in the archdiocese from 1945 to 2019.

Pope Benedict XVI, criticises Pakistan blasphemy law
In the letter, Benedict says that despite any mistakes he may have made, God would be the ultimate arbiter [File: Alessia Pierdomenico/Pool/EPA]

Former Pope Benedict has acknowledged that errors occurred in handling sexual abuse cases when he was archbishop of Munich and asked for forgiveness, as his lawyers argued he was not directly to blame.

The Vatican on Tuesday issued a letter by Benedict and a three-page addendum following a report released last month on abuse in the archdiocese from 1945 to 2019 by German investigators.

The investigation accused Benedict of knowingly failing to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse when he was archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982.

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” he wrote in the letter, his first personal response to the report.

Benedict XVI, right, thanked Pope Francis for his support and confidence [File: Osservatore Romano/AFP]

“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 … 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.”

Benedict, who is in frail health, asked a team of lawyers to help him respond to the lengthy findings by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW).

The aides insisted in a statement published alongside the letter that “as an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse”, referring to the pope’s birth name, Joseph Ratzinger.

Benedict’s page-and-a-half page German letter was deeply personal and couched in religious terms as he reflected on a long life approaching its end.

In one section he openly wondered if he, as all Catholics do in a prayer known as the Confiteor at Mass, should ask for forgiveness for what they have done and what they have failed to do “by my fault, by my most grievous fault”.

He does not answer his own question but says he is consoled that God forgives.

In the letter, Benedict says that despite any mistakes he may have made, God would be the ultimate arbiter. “Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life.”

Benedict, who resigned unexpectedly in 2013, also thanked Pope Francis for the “confidence, support and prayer … personally expressed to me”. He did not elaborate.

Soon after the German report was issued, Benedict acknowledged that he had been at a 1980 meeting over a sexual abuse case when he was archbishop of Munich, saying he had mistakenly told German investigators he was not there.

At the time, Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, said the omission was the result of an oversight in the editing of 82-pages of testimony he had sent the investigators and not done out of bad faith.

In Monday’s letter, Benedict said: “To me it proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar.”

Source: News Agencies