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Pope Benedict XVI failed to stop sex abuse when he was an archbishop, law firm says

The former Pope Benedict XVI, seen here in 2010, did not intervene in four cases of sexual abuse when he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising, according to a law firm's new report. The inquiry was commissioned by the archdiocese.
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The former Pope Benedict XVI, seen here in 2010, did not intervene in four cases of sexual abuse when he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising, according to a law firm's new report. The inquiry was commissioned by the archdiocese.

A German law firm investigating the Catholic Church's handling of child sexual abuse cases says former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action in four instances — including two that resulted in legal charges — while he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising.

"In a total of four cases, we reached a consensus there was a failure to act," said attorney Martin Pusch of the law firm Westphal Spilker Wastl, according to news site Deutsche Welle. Despite reports of abuse, Pusch said, the church allowed priests to continue working without restrictions.

In a summary of the findings, the Vatican's news agency says:

  • At least 497 people were abused in the archdiocese from 1945 to 2019;
  • 60% of the victims were between the ages of 8-14;
  • Most victims were young, with 247 male victims and 182 female;
  • There were 235 perpetrators of abuse, including 173 priests
  • The report, presented by Pusch and others at a lengthy news conference Thursday, contradicts Benedict's long-running denial that he covered up or ignored abuse. For much of the time in question, he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He served in the Munich post from 1977 to 1982.

    "Two of the cases involved two perpetrators who committed the abuse while Ratzinger was in office," NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Berlin. "The two were kept in pastoral work after being punished by the judicial system."

    "A third case involved a cleric who had been convicted by a court outside Germany and was put back into service in the Munich archdiocese despite evidence showing Ratzinger knew of the man's past."

    During the news conference, lawyer Ulrich Wastl pointed to records of a meeting in which Munich church leaders agreed to accept the transfer of an abusive priest in early 1980. Benedict denied being present at the meeting — but the minutes of the session show he was, Wastl said.

    The law firm's report also criticizes Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is currently the archbishop of Munich and Freising, for his role in two cases in 2008. Marx offered his resignation to Pope Francis last year, saying he was willing to take responsibility for his part in the sexual abuse crisis. But Francis did not accept his resignation.

    Benedict, 94, resigned from the papacy in 2013, making him the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years. His tenure lasted just under eight years.

    The long-awaited report, "Sexual abuse of minors and adult wards by clerics and full-time employees in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1945 - 2019," runs nearly 1,900 pages.

    The church in Munich plans to respond publicly to the report in one week, according to Vatican News. The agency says the church did not get an advance copy of the report before it was released Thursday.

    Westphal Spilker Wastl conducted the inquiry at the archdiocese's request, looking into decades of records involving how Catholic leaders handled instances of priests abusing children and adolescents.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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