The Vatican today released a summary of Pope emeritus Benedict’s Letter on the Munich Report (Abuse, Ratzinger: ‘Shame, sorrow, heartfelt request for forgiveness’ – Vatican News). The Munich Report, a study on abuse on Germany over a period of 74 years, was commissioned by the German bishops of an independent group, and the nearly 2,000 page report was released January 20. In part, it suggested cover-up by Joseph Ratzinger in the almost five years he was archbishop of Munich.

On January 24, Abp. Georg Gaenswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI noted that “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has had at his disposal the expert report of the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, presented the same day (Jan 20), as a PDF file. Currently, he is carefully reading the statements made there, which fill him with shame and sorrow for the suffering that was inflicted on the victims. Although he strives to read the report quickly, he asks for your understanding that it will take time to read it in its entirety because of his age and health, but also because of its large volume. There will be a statement on the expert report.” (Vatican media photo)

Today, the full “Letter of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI regarding the Report on Abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising” can be found here: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2022/02/08/220208b.html

Also: the Vatican released in English a 3-page appendix, “Analysis of the facts by the collaborators of Benedict XVI: Prof. Dr. Stefan Mückl – Rome (Canon Law);   Prof. em. Dr. Dr. Mag. Helmuth Pree – “Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität” of Munich (Canon Law): Dr. Stefan Korta – Buchloe (Church Law); and Lawyer Dr. Carsten Brennecke – Cologne (Right to freedom of expression):

Here is that full text:

In the report on abuses in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising it is stated that: Joseph Ratzinger, contrary to what he claimed in the memorandum drafted in response to the experts, was present at the meeting of the Ordinariate on January 15, 1980, in which Priest X. was discussed. And it is claimed that Cardinal Ratzinger had employed this priest in pastoral activity, even though he was aware of the abuses committed by him, and thus would have covered up his sexual abuses.

This does not correspond to the truth, according to our verifications: Joseph Ratzinger was neither aware that Priest X. was an abuser, nor that he was included in pastoral activity. The records show that at the meeting of the Ordinariate on January 15, 1980, it was not decided to engage Priest X. in pastoral activity. The records also show that the meeting in question did not discuss the fact that the priest had committed sexual abuse. It was exclusively a question of the accommodation of the young Priest X. in Munich because he had to undergo therapy there. This request was complied with. During the meeting the reason for the therapy was not mentioned. It was therefore not decided at the meeting to engage the abuser in pastoral work.

In the abuse report of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising it is stated that: With regard to his presence at the meeting of the Ordinariate on January 15, 1980, Benedict XVI would have knowingly perjured himself, would have lied.

This is not true, in fact: The affirmation contained in Benedict XVI’s memoir that he did not take part in the meeting of the Ordinariate on January 15, 1980 is indeed incorrect. And yet Benedict XVI did not lie or knowingly make a false statement:

In drafting the memoir, Benedict XVI was supported by a group of collaborators. It consisted of the lawyer Dr. Carsten Brennecke (Cologne) and the collaborators for ecclesiastical law: Prof. Dr. Stefan Mückl (Rome), who at the behest of Benedict XVI examined the documents, Prof. Dr. Helmuth Pree and Dr. Stefan Korta. The collaborators were called in because Benedict XVI could not analyze the mass of issues on his own in a short period of time and because the law firm in charge of the expert report asked questions that referred to canon law, so that a framework in canon law was necessary for the answer. Only Prof. Mückl was allowed to view the documents electronically, and he was not allowed to store, print or photocopy any documents. No other collaborators were allowed to view the documents. After Prof. Mückl had examined the digital documents (8,000 pages) and analyzed them, a further processing step was carried out by Dr. Korta, who inadvertently made a transcription error. Dr. Korta mistakenly noted that Joseph Ratzinger was not present at the meeting of the Ordinariate on January 15, 1980. The collaborators missed this erroneous entry of an absence that had not occurred. They relied on the false indication erroneously inserted by failing to expressly ask Benedict XVI if he had been present at that meeting. On the basis of the erroneous transcription of the minutes, it was assumed instead that Joseph Ratzinger had not been present. Benedict XVI, due to the great haste with which he had to verify his memory in a few days, given the time limits imposed by the experts, did not notice the error, but trusted the alleged transcription of his absence.

One cannot impute this transcription error to Benedict XVI as a conscious false statement or “lie”.

Moreover, it would have made no sense for Benedict to intentionally deny his presence at the meeting: in fact, the minutes of the meeting report statements made by Joseph Ratzinger. The presence of Joseph Ratzinger was therefore evident. Moreover, in 2010 several press articles report – without later denial – the presence of Cardinal Ratzinger at the meeting. Similarly, a biography of Benedict XVI published in 2020 states: “As a bishop, during a meeting of the Ordinariate in 1980, he had only agreed that the priest in question could come to Munich to undergo psychotherapy” (Peter Seewald, Benedikt XVI., Droemer Verlag 2020, p. 938).

The report argues that: The expert report also charges Benedict XVI with misbehavior in three other cases. In fact, even in these cases he would have known that the priests were abusers.

This does not correspond to the truth, according to our verifications, in fact: In none of the cases analyzed by the expert report was Joseph Ratzinger aware of sexual abuse committed or suspicion of sexual abuse committed by priests. The expert report provides no evidence to the contrary.

Regarding the case of the Priest X. that was publicly discussed in the meeting of the Ordinariate in 1980 regarding the accommodation to be given to him for therapy, the same expert – in the press conference of 20.01.2022 on the occasion of the presentation of the abuse report – stated that there is no evidence that Joseph Ratzinger was aware of it. To the subsequent question of a journalist whether the experts were able to prove that Joseph Ratzinger had been aware that Priest X. had committed sexual abuse, the expert clearly stated that there is no evidence that Joseph Ratzinger had knowledge. Only in the subjective opinion of the expert witnesses would it be “more likely”.

The press conference is available at the following link: https://vimeo.com/668314410

At minute 2:03:46 the journalist’s question can be found: “My question also still refers to the case of Priest X. Can the law firm prove that Cardinal Ratzinger was then aware that Priest X. was an abuser? What does ‘most likely’ mean in this context?” […]

An expert responds, “[…] More likely means that we assume it with a higher probability. […]”.

The expert report contains no evidence for an allegation of misconduct or conspiracy in any cover-up.

As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse.

The report alleges that: In his memoir, Benedict XVI allegedly downplayed acts of exhibitionism. As evidence for this assertion the following indication contained in the memoir is reported: “Parish priest X. was noted as an exhibitionist, but not as an abuser in the proper sense”.

This does not correspond to the truth, in fact: In his memoir Benedict XVI did not minimize the exhibitionist behavior, but expressly condemned it. The phrase used as alleged evidence of minimizing exhibitionism is taken out of context.

In the memoir, in fact, Benedict XVI says with the utmost clarity that abuses, including exhibitionism, are “terrible”, “sinful”, “morally reprehensible” and “irreparable”. In the canonical evaluation of the event, inserted into the memoir by us the collaborators and expressed according to our judgment, there was only a desire to recall that according to the canon law then in force, exhibitionism was not a crime in the restricted sense, because the relevant penal norm did not include in the case in point behavior of that type.

Thus, the memoir of Benedict XVI did not minimize exhibitionism, but clearly and explicitly condemned it.

This fact-check was drafted by the collaborators in German. Should there be any linguistic discrepancies in the course of translation, the German version shall prevail. Prof. Dr. Stefan Mückl – Rome (Canon Law) Prof. em. Dr. Dr. Mag. Helmuth Pree – “Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität” of Munich (Canon Law) Dr. Stefan Korta – Buchloe (Church Law) Lawyer Dr. Carsten Brennecke – Cologne (Right to freedom of expression)



Following the publication of the investigation*,  the years of the Pope Emeritus’ Bavarian episcopate are in the spotlight. It’s only fair to remember Benedict XVI’s fight against clerical paedophilia during his pontificate and his willingness to meet and listen to the victims, asking them for forgiveness.

By Andrea Tornielli **

The words that were used during the press conference to present the report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich, as well as the seventy-two pages of the document dedicated to the brief Bavarian episcopate of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, have filled the newspapers in the past week and have triggered some very strong comments. The Pope emeritus, with the help of his collaborators, did not evade the questions of the law firm commissioned by the Archdiocese of Munich to draw up a report that examines a very long span of time, from the episcopate of Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber to that of the current Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Benedict XVI provided an 82-page response, after having been able to examine some of the documentation in the diocesan archives. Predictably, it was Ratzinger’s four and a half years at the helm of the Bavarian diocese that monopolized the attention of commentators. (photo Munich cathedral)

Some of the accusations have been known for more than ten years and had already been published by important international media. Today, there are four cases being contested against Ratzinger, and his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, has announced that the Pope Emeritus will issue a detailed statement after he has finished examining the report. In the meantime, however, the reiterated condemnation of these crimes by Benedict XVI can be forcefully repeated, and the steps taken by the Church in recent years, starting from his pontificate, can be retraced.

Child abuse is a horrendous crime. The abuse committed against minors by clerics is possibly an even more revolting crime, and this has been tirelessly repeated by the last two Popes: it’s a sin that cries out vengeance before God that little ones suffer violence on the part of priests or religious to whom their parents have entrusted them to be educated in the faith. It is unacceptable that they become victims of sexual predators hiding in ecclesiastical garb. The most eloquent words on this subject remain those pronounced by Jesus: those who scandalize the little ones would do better to hang a millstone around their necks and throw themselves into the sea.

It cannot be forgotten that Ratzinger, who as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had already fought the phenomenon in the last phase of the pontificate of St. John Paul II, with whom he had been a close collaborator, and once he became Pope, promulgated very harsh norms against clerical abusers, special laws to combat paedophilia. What’s more, with his concrete example, Benedict XVI testified to the urgency of that change of mentality that is so important to counter the phenomenon of abuse: listening and closeness to the victims to whom forgiveness must always be asked. For too long abused children and their relatives, instead of being considered wounded persons to be welcomed and accompanied on the path of healing, have been kept at a distance. Unfortunately, they have often been distanced and even pointed to as “enemies” of the Church and its good name.

It was Joseph Ratzinger, the first Pope to meet several times with victims of abuse during his apostolic journeys. It was Benedict XVI, even against the opinion of many self-styled “Ratzingerians”, who upheld, in the midst of the storm of scandals in Ireland and Germany, the face of a penitential Church, which humbles itself in asking for forgiveness, which feels dismay, remorse, pain, compassion and closeness.

It is precisely in this penitential image that the heart of Benedict’s message lies. The Church is not a business, it is not saved only by good practices or by the application, even if indispensable, of strict and effective norms. The Church needs to ask for forgiveness, help and salvation from the Only One who can give them, from the Crucified One who has always been on the side of the victims and never of the executioners.

With extreme lucidity, on the flight that took him to Lisbon in May 2010, Benedict XVI recognized that “the sufferings of the Church come precisely from the inside of the Church, from the sin that exists within the Church. We have always been aware of this, but now we do see it in a truly appalling way: that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from the external enemies, but is born of sin within the Church, and that the Church needs deeply to learn repentance again, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on one side and the need for justice on the other. Forgiveness does not replace justice.” These words were preceded and followed by concrete facts in the fight against the scourge of clerical paedophilia. All this can neither be forgotten nor erased.

The reconstructions contained in the Munich report – which, it must be remembered, is not a judicial inquiry nor a final sentence – will help to combat paedophilia in the Church if they are not reduced to the search for easy scapegoats and summary judgments. Only by avoiding these risks will they be able to contribute to the search for justice in truth and to a collective examination of conscience on the errors of the past.

* Munich Report on sex abuse in Germany

**editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication since December 2018.