26 January 2022, The Tablet

Head of German bishops criticises Benedict over Munich

Cardinal Gerhard Müller is amongst those who have defended the former pontiff’s behaviour.

Head of German bishops criticises Benedict over Munich

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome in June 2006.
CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

The head of the German bishops’ conference has joined in the criticism of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI following the publication on 20 January of the church-commissioned report on abuse in the Munich archdiocese between 1949 and 2019. The future Pope was Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. 

The report, published on Thursday last week, said the then-archbishop failed to take action against clerics in four cases when he was the archbishop of Munich. Benedict denied wrongdoing over the cases in an 82-page written statement sent to the investigators.

It was now absolutely clear “quite how disastrously the Church had behaved”, including church leaders, “right up to an emeritus Pope”, conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg told journalists in Trier the day after the Munich Report was published.

“I am ashamed that we have such a past and in order to re-establish our credibility, we must … unrelentingly face the truth however painful that may be,” Bätzing said.

Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen called on those responsible publicly to acknowledge where they had gone wrong. What made him “really angry” was the “vast extent” to which church leaders had failed. “They were incapable of realising their own responsibility.” That Pope Emeritus Benedict had also omitted to take responsibility for his actions “must not remain his last word on the matter”, he said. 

Asked by the official website of the German bishops’ conference, katholisch.de, how Pope Emeritus Benedict should react now, the director of the IADC (Institute of Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care) at the Gregorian, Fr Hans Zollner SJ, said: “He should publish a simple, personal declaration. He could say ‘I can’t remember taking part at the meeting concerned. If I was there, then I made mistakes and apologise. Even if the psychological insights we had then were different, I should have paid more attention to the issue and I am sorry that I did not’.”

He had been very surprised that Benedict had confined his comments to juridical and legal aspects. “The human aspect is completely missing. One can see that in the example Benedict gives of a priest who masturbates in front of young children. As the priest does not touch the children, this does not come under abuse, according to Benedict,” Zollner said.

On 24 January Pope Emeritus Benedict’s secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein published a declaration in Benedict’s name underlining that Benedict had taken part after all in a key meeting on 15 January 1980 at which repeat offender Fr Peter Hullermann had been discussed. Benedict repeatedly declared in the report that he distinctly remembered that he had not taken part in the meeting. The Pope Emeritus now apologised for what he calls a “publishing mistake”, Gänswein said, and he would explain how it came about when he had finished reading the entire Munich Report.

Thomas Schüller, one of Germany’s best known canon lawyers, meanwhile accused the Pope Emeritus of “continuing to lie”. Although he had now admitted that he was at the 15 January 1980 meeting, he still denied having known anything about Hullermann. “Joseph Ratzinger is … doing permanent damage to the papacy and to the Catholic Church as a whole,” Schüller told dpa.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, rejected such attacks. He told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that there were people “in Germany and elsewhere who want to damage” the former Pope. “It’s obvious that if there were errors, he didn't know about them,” said Muller. Benedict “did not deliberately do anything wrong”.

In an address to the CDF on Friday, Pope Francis promised to push ahead with punishing abuse and said the Church remained “committed to bringing justice to its victims”. He did not mention the German report.

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