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Former Pope Admits 'Errors' in Handling of Sex Abuse Cases

FILE - Pope Benedict XVI during a visit in Freising, Germany, June 22, 2020.
FILE - Pope Benedict XVI during a visit in Freising, Germany, June 22, 2020.
Former Pope Admits 'Errors' in Handling of Sex Abuse Cases
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Retired pope Benedict XVI has admitted to making “errors,” or mistakes, in dealing with clergy sex abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich in Germany.

The former leader of the Roman Catholic Church has asked for the Church’s forgiveness. At the same time, his lawyers have denied any wrongdoing on his part.

The Vatican released a letter by Benedict on Tuesday. In it, he wrote, "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."

The letter followed an independent investigative report released last month by a German law firm. Germany’s Roman Catholic Church hired the law firm to do the report, which looked at how cases of sexual abuse were dealt with in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. The report noted Benedict’s failure to act on four cases of sexual abuse by clergy even after the abusers had been found guilty.

Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, led the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982. The report said other religious leaders who came before and after Ratzinger made mistakes, too.

Benedict said in his letter, "...I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow, and my heartfelt request for forgiveness."

The letter came with a document from his lawyers disputing the report’s claims against the former pope. The lawyers criticized the report and argued that it provided no evidence that Benedict knew of the criminal history of any of the four clergymen in question.

“As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-ups of acts of abuse,” they wrote.

The reform group Wir sind Kirche (We are Church) quickly criticized the former pope. The group said the former leader “still sees himself as a victim.”

The head of the German bishops’ conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, had earlier said that Benedict needed to say, “I incurred guilt, I made mistakes and I apologize to those affected.” Baetzing added,” It won’t work any other way.”

Benedict stepped down from his position as pope unexpectedly in 2013. In his letter this week, he thanked Pope Francis for the "confidence, support and prayer ... personally expressed to me".

The Vatican had earlier defended Benedict’s record following last month’s report. The church said Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of abuse and sought to punish the abusers. The Vatican’s defense, however, centered on Benedict’s time as head of the Holy See’s doctrine office, from 1982 until he was elected pope in 2005.

At the end of his letter, Benedict noted that he is at the end of his life and will soon be judged by God. He wrote, “Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on reports from The Associated Press and Reuters.


Words in This Story

occur - v. happen

mandate - n. power to act

archdiocese - n. an area under the leadership of an archbishop

profound - adj. very strongly felt

shame - n. feeling of guilt, regret and sadness

sorrow - n. a cause of grief or sadness

bishop - n. a religious official who ranks higher than a priest or clergy

incur - v. to have experience

confidence - n. a feeling that someone is good