Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated on Monday that he attended a meeting where the case of a priest accused of pedophilia was discussed, contradicting a previous statement he made to a German law firm investigating allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
On Monday, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s personal secretary, issued a statement saying that the former pontiff’s previous claim about not attending the meeting with the law firm conducting the investigation, Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, was “objectively false.”
The law firm issued a report last week that found, among other things, that Benedict mishandled four cases in which priests were accused of sexual abuse, allegations that threaten to tarnish the former pontiff’s legacy.
The firm was looking into how allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the German archdioceses of Munich and Freiburg were handled between 1945 and 2019. Between 1977 and 1982, Benedict — then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — was archbishop of the diocese and in charge of its clerics.
A representative of the law firm said at a news conference Thursday presenting the report’s findings that Benedict had denied being at one meeting where the case of a priest who had been sent to Munich from the diocese of Essen to receive treatment was discussed, even though minutes of the meeting showed he had been present.
After reading the report’s findings, the retired pope stated that he was present at the meeting in question “contrary to what was stated,” Archbishop Gänswein said in a statement. He went on to say that Benedict’s previous claim was not made in “bad faith,” but rather as a result of an error in the editing process of an 82-page statement provided to the lawyers.
In a statement issued on Monday, Benedict, 94, apologized for the error but insisted that, despite his presence at the meeting, “the pastoral assignment of the priest in question was not decided at this meeting.”
In response to questions from the lawyers conducting the investigation, Benedict stated that he was unaware that the priest in question had been accused of sex abuse against minors, and that the documents seeking his transfer to Munich only mentioned health-related issues that required psychotherapy. Benedict stated that the priest was “very gifted” and could have been assigned to different tasks.
The transfer request from Essen stated that the priest had been “immediately removed from pastoral care” due to a report from the parish community, but provided no further details or mentioned any suspicions of sexual abuse. Benedict also stated that he had no recollection of being informed about the new priest’s role.
The priest was allowed to return to pastoral work just a few weeks after arriving in Munich, but he was convicted of sexually abusing minors in the diocese of Essen in 1986 and sentenced to an 18-month suspended sentence with five years of probation. When the case became public in 2010, the archdiocese stated that the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties had been made by Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy in Munich.
Archbishop Gänswein stated that Benedict had been reading the 1,900-page report since receiving it on Thursday, but that it would “take time to read it completely” due to Benedict’s “age and health.” Benedict, he said, would comment on the report after he finished reading it.
Archbishop Gänswein said the report’s contents had filled Benedict with “shame and pain” for the suffering caused to victims, and he expressed closeness to his home dioceses, “especially to the victims who had to experience abuse and indifference.”