VATICAN CITY, Holy See — Former pope Benedict XVI on Monday admitted providing incorrect information to a German inquiry about his presence at a 1980 meeting discussing a paedophile priest, blaming an editing “oversight”.
“He is very sorry for this mistake and asks to be excused,” Benedict’s personal secretary Georg Ganswein said in a statement.
But no decision was made at the meeting about reassigning the priest to pastoral duties, it said.
An independent report last week found that Benedict XVI, who stood down in 2013, knowingly failed to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in the 1980s.
The report by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine how abuse cases were dealt with between 1945 and 2019.
Ex-pope Benedict — whose birth name is Joseph Ratzinger — was the archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.
In one case, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.
Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history and continued to reoffend for many years.
Unveiling the report, the lawyers said that “to our surprise”, Benedict had denied attending the meeting in 1980 at which the decision was made to admit Hullermann to the diocese, despite being quoted directly in the minutes of the meeting.
– ‘Criminals hiding’ –
The statement from the emeritus pope, republished by Vatican News, said: “He would like to make it clear now that, contrary to what was stated at the hearing, he did attend the Ordinariate meeting on January 15, 1980.
“The statement to the contrary was therefore objectively incorrect,” it added, while insisting this was “not done out of bad faith, but was the result of an oversight in the editing of his statement”.
“Objectively correct, however, remains the statement, documented by the files, that in his meeting no decision was made about a pastoral assignment of the priest in question,” it said.
Further explanations would follow, it said, but the 94-year-old pope, who is said to be in shaky health, is still reading the inquiry report.
Its release last week sparked anger among many, but also allegations it was part of an anti-Benedict plot.
Jesuit Hans Zollner, a member of the Vatican’s commission for the protection of minors, said it was clear that “criminals are hiding among us”, and he called for a similar probe in Italy.
But retired bishop Massimo Camisasca said it was a “manoeuvre against Ratzinger… from within the church”, and insisted the ex-pope had been “the first to highlight the seriousness of the abuses”.
Elected in 2005, Benedict came under fire for his failure to act decisively to end church cover-ups of clerical sex abuse.
In 2010, he admitted that the Church “did not act quickly or firmly enough to take the necessary action”.
But in 2019, speaking from retirement, he sparked fresh controversy by blaming the clerical abuse scandals on the 1960s sexual revolution and a collapse in faith in the West.