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Benedict: Attended session where topic was accused priest

Pope emeritus contradicts previous statement in clerical sex abuse case by The New York Times | January 25, 2022 at 4:26 a.m.

ROME -- Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said Monday that he had been at a meeting at which the case of a priest accused of pedophilia had been discussed, contradicting a previous statement that he made to a German law firm investigating allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

On Monday, Benedict's personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, issued a statement saying that the former pontiff's previous assertion about not attending the meeting to the law firm conducting the investigation, Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, was "objectively false."

The firm was investigating how allegations of clerical sexual abuse had been handled in the German archdiocese of Munich and Freiburg between 1945 and 2019. Benedict -- then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- was archbishop of the diocese and in charge of its clerics between 1977-82.

Upon reading the findings of the report, the retired pope said he had been present at the meeting in question "contrary to what was stated," Ganswein said in his statement. He added that Benedict's previous assertion was not made in "bad faith" but was the result of a mistake in the editing process of an 82-page statement provided to the lawyers.

In Monday's statement, Benedict, 94, apologized for the error but maintained that, while he had been present at that meeting, "the pastoral assignment of the priest in question was not decided at this meeting."

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In the original statement responding to questions by the lawyers conducting the investigation, Benedict had said he did not know that the priest in question had been accused of sex abuse against minors. The documents seeking his transfer to Munich only mentioned health-related issues that required psychotherapy, he said.

The priest was described as "very gifted" and could have been assigned to different tasks, Benedict said.

The transfer request from Essen mentioned that the priest had been "immediately taken out of pastoral care" because of a report coming from the parish community but did not provide further details or mention suspicions of sexual abuse.

Benedict added that he had no memory of being informed about what role the new priest was going to take.

The priest was in fact allowed to return to pastoral work a few weeks after his arrival in Munich. In 1986, he was convicted of sexually abusing minors in the diocese of Essen and given an 18-month suspended sentence with five years of probation.

When news of the case made headlines in 2010, the archdiocese said the decision to let the priest reassume his duties had been made by Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy in Munich.

Ganswein said Benedict had been reading the report, which runs to some 1,900 pages, since receiving it Thursday, but that it would "take time to read it completely" because of Benedict's "age and health." He said Benedict would comment on the report once he had finished reading it.

Ganswein said the contents of the report had filled Benedict with "shame and pain" for the suffering caused to victims, and expressed closeness to his home dioceses, "in particular to the victims who had to experience abuse and indifference."

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