Pope Benedict Admits Knowledge of Clerical Sexual Abuse

This week, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI admitted that in 1980, he attended a meeting at which a priest accused of child sexual abuse was discussed. Years earlier, Benedict denied this but now claims that was an “error”. This is not the first time Benedict contends he knew nothing about clerical abuse when the facts show differently.

Last week, an independent investigation into childhood sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising in Germany resulted in the publication of a 1,900-page report. This is yet another report that shines light on the Catholic Church’s cover-up of clerical abuse over several decades if not centuries. In this report, the investigators revealed that Benedict had attended the 1980 meeting at issue when Benedict served as Archbishop of Munich-Freising from 1977 to 1982. The report points to the meeting minutes in support. Frankly, with this much evidence, there was no way for Benedict to continue claiming lack of knowledge.

Benedict’s new admission was made as part of a statement issued to the Catholic News Agency by his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein.  Gänswein said the error had “not been made out of malicious intent” and it was “the result of an error in the editorial processing of his statement”. According to Gänswein, Benedict was “very sorry” for this error and planned to issue a detailed statement on a later date. No additional statement has been provided yet.

This is not the first time that Benedict claims he is sorry for a so-called “innocent error” that pertains to the safety of children. For decades, Benedict and the Catholic Church claimed they knew nothing about allegations of child sexual abuse by serial perpetrator Fr. Marciel Maciel Degollado. At the time that the sexual abuse allegations against Maciel were being investigated, Benedict was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body responsible for investigating these allegations.

Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ in 1941 and at one point the Legion was the largest source of fundraising for the Catholic Church. Despite credible accusations of sexually abusing children dating back to the 1950s, it was not until 2006 that Maciel was removed from ministry. Benedict’s response was to “punish” Maciel with a life of prayer and penitence.

In 2008, Benedict made his first visit as pope to the United States during which he spoke against clerical sexual abuse and addressed the United Nations. In 2010, allegations of sexual abuse of children by parish priests and in parochial schools — including in Germany and the United States, among other countries — brought Benedict under intense public scrutiny. In response to the media’s scrutiny of Benedict, the Vatican denounced that he was responsible for the cover-up of child sexual abuse. Now, after more than 40 years, Benedict finally admits to knowing about child sexual abuse allegations.

While Benedict’s recent admission after decades of claiming denial is a step forward in ending the Catholic Church’s cover-up of these crimes, it is hopefully not short-lived. Benedict and the Catholic Church must not only take full responsibility for centuries of allowing perpetrators to sexually abuse children, but must take immediate action. It’s time for the Catholic Church to do its part and implement policies and procedures that will put an end to these horrendous crimes against children once and for all.

Background: Benedict was born on April 16, 1927 in Bavaria, Germany. His birthname is Joseph Ratzinger. In 1951, he was ordained a Catholic priest. He was Prefect of the disciplinary section of the Roman Curia, Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, from 1982 to 2005. He was elevated to the papacy on April 19, 2005 upon the death of Pope John Paul II. Benedict served as pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 2005 until he resigned in February 2013 at the age of 85. He was the first pope in centuries to step down from his post. Today, he has the title of pope emeritus.