Letter #29, 2022, Wednesday, February 9: Benedict’s Letter of Apology
Emeritus Pope Benedict, who is 94 and will turn 95 on April 16, has issued a letter responding to accusations that he did not act with sufficient force to end the abuse of young people by priests when he was a bishop in Munich from 1977 to 1981, more than 40 years ago. (full text below)
The letter was made public yesterday.
Some observers seem to feel that Benedict did act somehow improperly, or not carefully enough.
But others insist that Benedict acted correctly, and that this recent letter of apology, his “mea culpa” (meaning “by my fault” or “through my fault”), was one of the high points of his pontificate, and his life.
Lucetta Scaraffia, a well-known Italian Catholic woman writer who had been invited some years ago to launch a new section of the Osservatore Romano on issues of concern to women, from a woman’s perspective, wrote this morning in the Italian paper Nazione-Carlino-Giorno (link): “If there is a way of salvation for the Church that seems to be on the ropes under the impact of the sexual abuse scandal (whose complaints show no sign of stopping), if there is a possibility of getting out of it with dignity, there is only one way: that set forth by the letter of the Pope Emeritus. In fact, with deep emotion we read the strong words full of pain and truth that Benedict XVI, old and fragile, was able to find to respond to the accusations made by the investigation into the diocese of Munich.”
So my letter today on this matter is an attempt to give a kind of “round-up” of a situation in which Pope Benedict faced accusations, and has responded to those accusations, on the eve of his 95th birthday, in a way that at least some thoughtful onlookers find compelling, convincing and, indeed, the only possible way to respond. —RM
Here is how the Washington Post depicted what happened this morning. In this sentence, the paper repeats a charge often made against Benedict: “His pontificate was defined by a series of abuse-related crises, and on several instances he met with abuse survivors. Critics charge that he did not do enough to address the scourge, saying he was slow to appreciate the systemic nature of the problem.”
But this is tendentious.
Benedict’s pontificate — 2005 to 2013 — was not “defined” by “a series of abuse-related crises.”
That is a reductionist way of viewing the man and his work.
In fact, Benedict’s pontificate was defined by his stalwart defense of the traditional Christian teachings on morality and his denunciation of the moral philosophy of the modern world as “a dictatorship of relativism.”
He was and is opposed to such a dictatorship, which he felt and feels diminishes man, all men.
That is what he stood for.
His pontificate was “defined” by this stand, as wells as by a series of magnificent writings, including his three books on Jesus of Nazareth, his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which proclaimed a creative compromise solution for the liturgical life of the Church, and his tough, new insistence on really addressing the issue of clerical abuse in a way none of his predecessors had.
So I publish this excerpt from the Washington Post article, not because I think it is a fair or complete picture of this matter, but to offer you the actual evidence of how the secular press, while claiming to be unbiased and objective, actually orients the agenda on this and other issues, sometimes in an almost imperceptible way, but always in a way that does not provide the full, complete, balanced truth on many important matters.
Here is the article:
Pope Benedict XVI apologizes for clerical abuse but admits no personal responsibility (link)
February 8, 2022
By Chico Harlan
ROME — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Tuesday expressed his “profound shame” to the victims of clerical abuse, and he said he was pained by “errors” that occurred in various places across his career in the church. But he stopped short of acknowledging any specific personal responsibility after a church-commissioned German report accused him of mishandling four cases during his time running the archdiocese of Munich between 1977 and 1982.
“However great my fault may be today, the Lord forgives me, if I sincerely allow myself to be examined by him, and am really prepared to change,” the 94-year-old retired pope wrote.
At the same time Tuesday, a legal and academic team that had assisted Benedict offered a full-throated defense, saying Benedict — known then as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — was never involved in any “cover-up of acts of abuse.” The canon lawyers and academics said the German investigation was short on evidence to prove its claims.
Benedict, who stepped down as pope in 2013, has been under renewed scrutiny for weeks because of the Munich report, which detailed decades of abuse in the archdiocese. Although popes dating back to John Paul II have been ensnared by the global abuse crisis, never had a future pope been accused in such detail of mishandling specific cases.
The letter from the academics and canon lawyers, which the Vatican emailed to reporters, amounts to a direct pushback in defending Benedict’s legacy.
While Benedict’s own letter was full of spiritual references — sin and forgiveness and facing final judgment — he also made it clear that he valued the support from his legal team, which he called a “small group of friends.” He said they had compiled the initial 82-page testimony sent to the Munich investigators on his behalf, analyzing documents from his time as archbishop.
Members on the legal team addressed several of the accusations against Benedict, trying to clear his name on every count.
They mentioned, first of all, the case that has gotten the most attention — that of an accused pedophile priest who was transferred to Munich while Benedict was archbishop, given therapy and then permitted to resume regular duties. Benedict’s team had initially told the investigators that he wasn’t in attendance at a 1980 meeting to discuss the priest. Days after the report’s release, Benedict acknowledged a falsehood, saying that he had indeed been present.
The legal team tried Tuesday to clarify what happened, saying that one of Benedict’s collaborators — Church lawyer Stefan Korta — had “inadvertently made a transcription error.”
“One cannot impute this transcription error to Benedict XVI as a conscious false statement or ‘lie,’ ” the letter said.
The legal team also said that in the 1980 meeting, according to the records, the priest’s sexual abuse was never discussed.
“Joseph Ratzinger was neither aware that [the priest] was an abuser, nor that he was included in pastoral activity,” the letter said.
Benedict, the first pontiff to abdicate in 600 years, has been living in a monastery inside the Vatican. His pontificate was defined by a series of abuse-related crises, and on several instances he met with abuse survivors. Critics charge that he did not do enough to address the scourge, saying he was slow to appreciate the systemic nature of the problem. While he defrocked hundreds of priests, he did not punish bishops found to have covered up cases of shielded abusers.
In his letter, Benedict referenced some of his meetings with survivors, writing that he had seen firsthand the effects “of a most grievous fault.”
“As in those meetings, once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” Benedict wrote.
Here is how the Vatican itself covered the Pope’s publication of his letter:
Abuse, Ratzinger: ‘Shame, sorrow, heartfelt request for forgiveness’ (link)
In a letter to the faithful of Munich, the Pope Emeritus speaks of clerical pedophilia, taking his cue from the words “mea maxima culpa” repeated at Mass: “We ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility.”
By Vatican News
February 8, 2022
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI intervenes directly and personally to respond to the report on abuse in the diocese of Munich and Freising where he was archbishop for less than five years. He does so with a text filled with a penitential aspect, which contains his personal “confession” and a look of faith on the “most grievous fault” of abuses and cover-ups.
In the first part of the letter, Ratzinger thanks those who collaborated with him to examine the documentary material and prepare the answers sent to the commission. As he has already done in recent days, he apologizes again for the error, absolutely unintentional, about his presence at the meeting of 15 January 1980, during which it was decided to accept into the diocese a priest who required treatment. He also says he is “particularly grateful for the confidence, support and prayer that Pope Francis personally expressed to me.”
In the second part of the letter, the Pope Emeritus says he is struck by the fact that the Church daily places at the center of every celebration of the Mass “the confession of our sins and a petition for forgiveness. We publicly implore the living God to forgive our fault, our most grievous fault.” It is clear, Benedict continues, that “the words ‘most grievous’ do not apply each day and to every person in the same way. Yet every day they do cause me to question if today too I should speak of a most grievous fault. And they tell me with consolation that however great my fault may be today, the Lord forgives me, if I sincerely allow myself to be examined by him, and am really prepared to change.”
Joseph Ratzinger then recalls face-to-face conversations with victims of abuse committed by clerics. “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. And 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.”
“As in those meetings,” says the Pope Emeritus, “once again 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. 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.”
Benedict XVI then says he understands more and more “the repugnance and fear that Christ felt on the Mount of Olives when He saw all the dreadful things that He would have to endure inwardly. Sadly, the fact that in those moments the disciples were asleep represents a situation that, today too, continues to take place, and for which I too feel called to answer. And so, I can only pray to the Lord and ask all the angels and saints, and you, dear brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
Ratzinger concludes his letter with these words: “Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life. Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my ‘Paraclete’. 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.”
Along with Benedict XVI’s letter, a short three-page annex was also published, written by the four legal experts — Stefan Mückl, Helmuth Pree, Stefan Korta, and Carsten Brennecke—who had already been involved in drafting the 82-page response to the commission’s questions. Those responses, attached to the report on abuse in Munich, had stirred up controversy, and contained a transcription error that led to the assertion of Archbishop Ratzinger’s absence at the meeting in which it was decided to accept a priest who had been guilty of abuse.
In their new answers, the legal experts reiterate that Cardinal Ratzinger, when he accepted the transfer of the priest who was to be treated in Munich, was not aware that he was an abuser. And in the meeting of January 1980, the reason why he had to receive treatment was not mentioned, nor was it decided to engage him in pastoral activity. The documents confirm what Ratzinger said.
The reason for the error regarding Ratzinger’s initially-denied presence is then explained in detail: Only Professor Mückl was allowed to view the acts in electronic version, without being allowed to save, print, or photocopy documents. In the subsequent phase of processing, Dr. Korta inadvertently made a transcription error asserting that Ratzinger was absent on January 15, 1980. One cannot therefore impute this transcription error to Benedict XVI as a conscious false statement or “lie”. Among other things, already in 2010, several press articles, never denied, spoke of Ratzinger’s presence at that meeting, and the Pope Emeritus himself, in the biography written by Peter Seewald and published in 2020, claims to have been present.
Experts say that in none of the cases analyzed by the report was Joseph Ratzinger aware of sexual abuse committed, or suspicion of sexual abuse committed, by priests. The documentation does not provide any evidence to the contrary and in fact, answering precise questions on this point during the press conference of presentation, the same lawyers who drafted the report said that they presumed with probability that Ratzinger knew, but without this claim being corroborated by testimonies or documents.
Finally, the experts deny that the responses they drafted on behalf of the Pope Emeritus downplayed the seriousness of a priest’s exhibitionist behavior. “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 his response, Benedict XVI had stated that abuses, including exhibitionism, are “terrible,” “sinful,” “morally reprehensible”, and “irreparable.” In the canonical evaluation of the event, “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.”
The annex signed by the four expert advisors in law, for whose work the Pope Emeritus has taken responsibility, therefore contributes to clarifying what came out of Ratzinger’s mind and heart, as well as the result of the research of his advisors. Benedict XVI reiterates that he had no knowledge of the abuses committed by priests during his brief episcopate. But with humble and deeply Christian words he asks forgiveness for the “most grievous fault” of the abuses and for the errors and underestimations that occurred during his tenure.
Following the publication of the Pope Emeritus’ letter, Cardinal Séan Patrick O’Malley, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, released a statement. (link)
“Conscience speaks to us if we are prepared to listen,” he writes. “In today’s message, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has provided us with an intimate description of the drama of his own conscience fashioned by a life of service to God and to his people. The evil suffered by victims of child sexual abuse by priests and religious and his handling of such abuse justly and necessarily weighs heavily on the conscience of the Pope-emeritus.
“His sober testimony reflects his awareness that moments of darkness and sinfulness have cruelly scarred survivors of child sexual abuse. Pope Benedict’s acknowledgement of the irreparable harm caused by sexual abuse in the Church and of his own failings to do everything to prevent such harm is a challenge to all those who hold positions of leadership in the Church. We must do better.
“To the survivors and all others affected by the evil of sexual abuse, Pope Emeritus Benedict offers his own contrition for what has been lacking in his stewardship. His witness and profound honesty should galvanize all of us to defend survivors of abuse and to protect all those entrusted to our care.”
And here is an interview with Benedict’s long-time secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein:
Interview with Georg Gänswein. “A lot of aggression aimed at destroying his person. He answered with God in his eyes.” (link)
Gian Guido Vecchi, Corriere della Sera
February 9, 2022
Benedict XVI’s letter seems like a spiritual testament, is that so?
“That’s right, I agree. It is the image of his thoughts, his feelings, his moral and intellectual sincerity. As he wrote it, he thought about the victims of abuse. And in front of him, before his eyes, he had God himself. You see, a man can deceive other people, but God cannot be deceived.”
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary of Joseph Ratzinger, speaks in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where he followed and lives with the Pope Emeritus after the renunciation of the Pontificate in 2013.
Just in these days one of his books has been published, Testimoniare la Verità (Bearing Witness to the Truth). How the Church Renews the World(Ares Editions), an anthology of 21 writings that inevitably also essentially concern Ratzinger’s thought and personality.
“There were moments characterized by a combination of misunderstanding and aggression, which thickened over him and was aimed at weakening, destroying the person of Benedict XVI,” Gaenswein recalls in a passage. “It was published in Germany two years ago. The new edition in Italy was scheduled last year, then it was late. And yes, perhaps there is something providential that is being published right now, in these days, so stormy from a media point of view…”
Your Excellency, in the book he writes: “Sometimes one event or another has been painful and made him suffer. Especially when one had to ask: but what is the reason for this ferocious observation? It is clear that this was humanly painful. However, he also knew with absolute certainty that the criterion is not applause, but intrinsic correctness, the criterion is the Gospel itself.” Is that what is happening these days too?
“That’s it. I am certainly not a prophet, but there is something prophetic in all this, even if I would have spared it and would have preferred it not to be.”
Benedict XVI is almost 95 years old: how is he?
“Physically he is a very weak man, as is natural at his age. We live with him, we pray with him, soon we will recite the rosary and Vespers as every day. And his physical weakness takes nothing away from his spiritual and intellectual presence.”
In the book you write: “Truth is the great theme in Benedict’s life”…
“Anyone who knows him knows that the accusation of having lied is absurd. A distinction must be made between making a mistake and lying. On the Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Fernando Filoni wrote of ‘his profound and very high moral and intellectual honesty’ and explained that ‘I never found in him any shadow or attempt to hide or minimize anything.’ Benedict XVI read the article, which was not solicited or asked for. But that’s the way it is. Those who have been close to him know well what Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI said and did regarding the whole question of pedophilia. He was the first to act as a cardinal and then he continued the line of transparency as Pope. Already during the pontificate of John Paul II he changed the current mentality and set the line that Pope Francis is continuing.”
What is the main theme of the book?
“The German publisher asked me, I did not propose it, to publish my writings, there was no precise design. But, of course, if one has to look for a thread, it is in the study and reflection of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI. Already in the last few years as a high school student and then as a seminarian, I had read the Introduction to Christianity. And that theological thread has remained and has been enriched: since 1996, when he called me to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I nourished myself and am nourishing myself on his theology, it is obvious that it has permeated my heart and mind, like rain.”
How do you explain the attacks of recent weeks?
“There is a current that really wants to destroy the person and the work. This current never loved his person, his theology, his pontificate. And now there is an ideal opportunity to reckon, such as the search for a damnatio memoriae (“Damning of memory” or “condmening of memory”). Unfortunately, many are deceived by this vile attack, there is so much mud. A sad thing.”
There was also controversies involving you, because you once spoke of an “enlarged” Petrine ministry …
“The controversy refers to my presentation of Roberto Regoli‘s book on Benedict XVI’s pontificate to the Gregorian, in 2016. Some of my observations have been misinterpreted. I made it clear right away. Unfortunately there are people who wanted, indeed, want to, exploit my words to sow discord between Pope Francis and his predecessor. Just take note of my clarification and you will understand or you do not want to understand… To avoid any misunderstanding, I have removed those sentences from subsequent publications.”
They criticized Ratzinger for “not being credible” for having replied that he had not been present at the meeting in 1980.
“The analysis of the facts, together with the letter, gives a very clear answer: yes, there is a small team of qualified people who help Benedict, there has been this mistake, and unfortunately none of us have realized it. It was clearly an unintentional editorial error, Benedict was very sorry. But the fact remains that a mistake and a lie are two different realities. And the substance does not change. The authors of the report themselves replied that there is no ‘evidence.’ There cannot be.”
“Benedict XVI hopes that his letter will be read with that sincerity of intellect and heart with which it was written, with his gaze turned to the Lord.”
And here, finally, is the actual text of the letter of apology that Pope Benedict XVI published yesterday, February 8:
Letter of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI regarding the report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, 08.02.2022 (link)
Letter of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
regarding the Report on Abuse
in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising
Vatican City, 6 February 2022
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Following the presentation of the report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising on 20 January last, I feel the need to address a personal word to all of you. Even though I served as Archbishop of Munich and Freising for a little less than five years, I continue to feel very much a part of the Archdiocese of Munich and to consider it home.
I would like first to offer a word of heartfelt thanks. In these days marked by examination of conscience and reflection, I was able to experience greater friendship and support, and signs of trust, than I could ever have imagined.
I would like to thank in particular the small group of friends who selflessly compiled on my behalf my 82-page testimony for the Munich law firm, which I would have been unable to write by myself.
In addition to responding to the questions posed by the law firm, this also demanded reading and analyzing almost 8,000 pages of documents in digital format.
These assistants then helped me to study and analyze the almost 2,000 pages of expert opinions. The results will be published subsequently as an appendix to my letter.
Amid the massive work of those days – the development of my position – an oversight occurred regarding my participation in the chancery meeting of 15 January 1980.
This error, which regrettably was verified, was not intentionally willed and I hope may be excused.
I then arranged for Archbishop Gänswein to make it known in the press statement of 24 January last.
In no way does it detract from the care and diligence that, for those friends, were and continue to be an evident and absolute imperative.
To me it proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar.
At the same time, I have been greatly moved by the varied expressions of trust, the heartfelt testimonies and the moving letters of encouragement sent to me by so many persons.
I am particularly grateful for the confidence, support and prayer that Pope Francis personally expressed to me.
Lastly, I would thank the little family in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, whose communion of life in times of joy and sorrow has given me the interior serenity that supports me.
Now, to these words of thanks, there must necessarily also follow a confession.
I am increasingly struck by the fact that day after day the Church begins the celebration of Holy Mass – in which the Lord gives us his word and his very self – with the confession of our sins and a petition for forgiveness.
We publicly implore the living God to forgive [the sins we have committed through] our fault, through our most grievous fault.
It is clear to me that the words “most grievous” do not apply each day and to every person in the same way.
Yet every day they do cause me to question if today too I should speak of a most grievous fault.
And they tell me with consolation that however great my fault may be today, the Lord forgives me, if I sincerely allow myself to be examined by him, and am really prepared to change.
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.
And 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.
As in those meetings, once again 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.
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.
I have come increasingly to appreciate the repugnance and fear that Christ felt on the Mount of Olives when he saw all the dreadful things that he would have to endure inwardly.
Sadly, the fact that in those moments the disciples were asleep represents a situation that, today too, continues to take place, and for which I too feel called to answer.
And so, I can only pray to the Lord and ask all the angels and saints, and you, dear brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life.
Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my “Paraclete”.
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.
In this regard, I am constantly reminded of what John tells us at the beginning of the Apocalypse: he sees the Son of Man in all his grandeur and falls at his feet as though dead.
Yet He, placing his right hand on him, says to him: “Do not be afraid! It is I…” (cf. Rev 1:12-17).
Dear friends, with these sentiments I bless you all.