Archbishop Gänswein: Benedict XVI is Praying for Victims in Wake of Munich Abuse Report

Archbishop Gänswein said: “Benedict XVI did not have access until this afternoon to the report of the law firm Westpfahl-Spilker-Wastl, which has more than 1,000 pages. In the coming days, he will examine the text with the necessary attention.”

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. (photo: Paul Badde/CNA / EWTN)

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Georg Gänswein said on Thursday that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI is praying for abuse victims in the wake of a report on the handling of abuse cases in Germany’s Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

Archbishop Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s private secretary, told reporters that the retired pope would read the extensive study in the coming days, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

The study, issued on Jan. 20, accused the 94-year-old pope emeritus of mishandling four cases during his tenure as Munich archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

Benedict XVI, who strongly denies cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to investigators compiling the report.

Archbishop Gänswein said: “Benedict XVI did not have access until this afternoon to the report of the law firm Westpfahl-Spilker-Wastl, which has more than 1,000 pages. In the coming days, he will examine the text with the necessary attention.” 

“The pope emeritus, as he has already repeated several times during the years of his pontificate, expresses his shock and shame at the abuse of minors committed by clerics, and expresses his personal closeness and prayer for all the victims, some of whom he has met on the occasion of his apostolic journeys.”

Lawyer Martin Pusch, an author of the report, said at a press conference on Thursday that investigators had faulted the actions of Benedict XVI, who was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he led the Munich archdiocese.

“In a total of four cases, we concluded that the then-archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger, can be accused of misconduct,” he said.

Pusch noted that in two of the cases, clerics committed abuse while Cardinal Ratzinger was in office. While they were criminally sanctioned by secular courts, they continued to perform pastoral duties, he said, and no action was taken against them under canon law.

In a third case, a cleric convicted by a foreign court worked in the Munich archdiocese. Pusch suggested that Cardinal Ratzinger knew of the priest’s history.

Another case treated in the report relates to a priest named Father Peter Hullermann, who is accused of abusing at least 23 boys aged eight to 16 between 1973 and 1996.

The case of the priest identified in German reports only as “H.” was first highlighted by the media in 2010, when Benedict XVI was pope, and again earlier this month.

Archbishop Gänswein told the German newspaper Die Zeit in early January: “The claim that he had knowledge of the previous history [allegations of sexual assault] at the time of the decision on the admission of Father H. [to the archdiocese] is wrong. He had no knowledge of his previous history.”

After leaving the Munich archdiocese in 1982, Cardinal Ratzinger served as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before his election as pope in 2005. He retired in 2013 and has since lived in relative seclusion at the Vatican.

The new report covers not only the period that the future Benedict XVI led the archdiocese, but also the tenures of Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who succeeded him, and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who has served as archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2007.

In addition to criticizing the future pope’s handling of four cases, investigators said that Cardinal Wetter had mishandled 21 cases and Cardinal Marx two cases.

Cardinal Marx said that he was “shocked and ashamed” at the report’s findings.

The study identified at least 497 victims of abuse, but investigators said that the true figure was likely to be higher. They said that 247 victims were male, 182 female, while the gender of 68 victims could not be determined. They added that they had found 235 alleged perpetrators, including 173 priests.

A Vatican spokesman said on Jan. 20: “The Holy See considers that appropriate attention should be paid to the document, whose contents are presently unknown. In coming days, following its publication, the Holy See will be able to give it a careful and detailed examination.”

“In reiterating shame and remorse for abuses committed by clerics against minors, the Holy See expresses its closeness to all victims and reaffirms the efforts undertaken to protect minors and ensure safe environments for them.”

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

10 Scripture Verses to Strengthen You in Hardship

“The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events …” (CCC 303)