Ex-Pope Benedict accused of failing to act in Munich Church abuse report

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  • Report found 497 abuse victims between 1945 and 2019
  • Former Pope has denied wrongdoing as Archbishop of Munich
  • Cardinal Marx offers apology to victims

BERLIN, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action against clerics in four cases of alleged sexual abuse in his archdiocese when he was Archbishop of Munich, a report found on Thursday, compounding a scandal engulfing the Catholic Church.

Benedict has previously denied wrongdoing over the cases.

Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was asked in 2020 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019.

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The report, commissioned by the archdiocese, said there were at least 497 victims of abuse, mainly young males. Many other cases had probably not been reported, said the lawyers.

It also found fault with the current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, 68, in two suspected cases. Marx, who is not under suspicion of having participated in abuse, apologised to the victims. read more

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former pope's secretary, said Benedict had just seen the report would "give the text the necessary attention" in the next few days.

Benedict, now aged 94, has been living in the Vatican since resigning as pontiff in 2013.

"The pope emeritus, as he did often during his pontificate, expresses shock and shame over the abuse of minors by clerics," Gänswein said, adding that Benedict was praying for the victims.

In a statement not mentioning the former pope, the Vatican said it would evaluate the full report and examine its details.

"In reiterating a sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors by clergy, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path it has taken to protect the little ones and guarantee them a safe environment," spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The WSW lawyers were tasked with finding out who knew what happened in the archdiocese and any action they took. Attention has focused on Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, who was Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982.

Presenting the report, lawyer Martin Pusch said Ratzinger had done nothing against the abuse in four cases and there appeared to be no interest shown to the injured parties.

"In a total of four cases, we have come to the conclusion that the then Archbishop Cardinal Ratzinger can be accused of misconduct in cases of sexual abuse," said Pusch. "He still claims ignorance even if, in our opinion, that is difficult to reconcile with the documentation."

The lawyers also accused Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008 and an influential liberal, of misconduct in two suspected cases of abuse. Last year, Pope Francis rejected an offer by him to resign as archbishop over the abuse crisis.

"As the current archbishop, I apologise on behalf of the archdiocese for the suffering inflicted on people in the area of the church in recent decades," said Marx, adding his archdiocese would give a full response to the report on Jan. 27.

In 2018, Germany's Catholic Church, which is among the world's wealthiest, apologised to victims after a report found that clerics had abused around 3,700 victims in the seven decades up to 2014.

Last year, a report into the archdiocese of Cologne between 1975 and 2018 found 202 abusers and 314 victims, and said Church officials had failed in their duties in some 75 cases.

The Catholic reform group We are Church called on Benedict to face up to what it described as his moral responsibility.

"A personal admission of guilt for his actions or non-actions at that time would be an urgently needed gesture and a great example for other bishops and leaders worldwide," it said.

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Reporting by Madeline Chambers; additional reporting by Phillip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Jon Boyle, Timothy Heritage and Catherine Evans

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