Pope Benedict XVI requests forgiveness after release of clergy sexual abuse report

Pope Benedict XVI holds his last general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on February 27, 2013. The weekly event which would normally be held in a vast auditorium in winter, but has been moved outdoors to St. Peter’s Square so more people can attend. The pope has two days left before he takes the historic step of becoming the first pontiff in some six centuries to step down instead of ruling for life. | Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has issued a “heartfelt request for forgiveness” to survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in response to a recent report chronicling hundreds of victims of abuse in the archdiocese he used to lead.

In a statement released on Sunday, the former pontiff responded to a recently released report exhaustively detailing the abuse of nearly 500 victims by church figures in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, which Benedict XVI briefly oversaw from 1977 to 1982.

“In all my meetings, especially during my many Apostolic Journeys, with victims of sexual abuse by priests, I have seen at first hand the effects of a most grievous fault,” stated Benedict XVI, as rendered by an official English translation.

“I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen.”

Benedict XVI went on to state that, as with those past meetings, “I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness.”

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” he continued.

“Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable. The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy and I feel great sorrow for each individual case.”

The retired pope, who was in office from 2005 to 2013, spoke about his involvement in the report. He provided an 82-page testimony to the investigators. At one point, he claimed to have not been present for a meeting about a priest with credible allegations of abuse, only to correct himself later.

“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” the 94-year-old pontiff emeritus added. “In light of the hour of judgement, the grace of being a Christian becomes all the more clear to me.”

“It grants me knowledge, and indeed friendship, with the judge of my life, and thus allows me to pass confidently through the dark door of death.”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests was critical of the papal statement, saying that the retired pontiff’s apology was “faint” and “repeating words of apology that have fallen on deaf ears for decades.” The group claims Benedict admitted “to one thing to cover up a thousand.”

In a statement Tuesday, SNAP claimed that “[i]t is the same pattern of abuse, institutional knowledge, and concealment." 

“To no surprise, Benedict and his advisors wish to recreate a narrative in their favor. True apologies are followed by true amends, a concept the church does not seem to be able to grasp,” the statement argued. 

“Despite evidence from secular authorities that Pope Benedict shuffled pedophiles, the former pope cannot do the simple thing and offer full accounting and apology. The opportunity for cleansing the report out of Munich offered has been squandered.”

SNAP said that the group seeks to “honor the abuse survivors in Germany and everywhere for continuing to speak truth to power against such great odds and in the face of such powerful denial.”

“Despite Pope Emeritus’ lack of candor, our truths cannot be denied,” the group concluded.

Last month, the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl released a 1,000-page report finding almost 500 people were abused by church figures in the Munich archdiocese from 1945 to 2019.

Benedict XVI, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was present for a meeting focused on transferring a priest with several abuse allegations to his diocese.

German Bishop Stefan Oster defended Ratzinger, saying the meeting involved referring the priest to the diocese for mental treatment and that Ratzinger had “entrusted himself to collaborators who committed a capital error on a decisive point.”

“We were and are all too much a part of a system — and so was Archbishop Ratzinger at the time,” explained Oster, as quoted by the Catholic News Agency earlier this month.

“And in this system, for too long, there was indeed almost no interest in the concrete fate of people affected by abuse and hardly any knowledge of their stories.”

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