Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on Monday admitted misleading a German investigation into paedophile clergy, saying he had given them incorrect information in error about a meeting regarding a predatory priest.
Groups representing victims of clerical sex abuse called for the former pontiff to be stripped of his title “emeritus”, which he has had since resigning as head of the Catholic Church nearly a decade ago.
The German investigation, released last week, found that when he was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, he failed to take action against four predatory priests.
He had told the investigation into the German Catholic Church that he did not remember going to a meeting in 1980 in which the case of a priest was discussed.
The priest was allowed to continue working even though he was known to be a paedophile.
But on Monday, in a statement released from the Vatican where he has lived since resigning as pontiff in 2013, he acknowledged that in fact he was at the meeting.
In a statement, 94-year-old Benedict said his mistake “was not committed in bad faith.”
He said that it was instead “the result of an error in the editorial drafting” of his statements to the investigation. He said he was “very sorry” and issued asked for forgiveness.
The statement said: “He would like to make it clear now that, contrary to what was stated at the hearing, he did attend the meeting on January 15, 1980. The statement to the contrary was therefore objectively incorrect.”
Benedict intends to explain how the mistake happened once he has studied the 2,000 page report, said his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.
“He is carefully reading the statements set down there, which fill him with shame and pain about the suffering inflicted on the victims,” Archbishop Ganswein said.
When the report was presented last week, lawyers said Benedict – at the time Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – failed to take action against four cases of abuse.
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.
He was reassigned to “pastoral duties” and continued to reoffend for many years.
The report, by a German law firm, was commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine how abuse cases were dealt with between 1945 and 2019.
Lawyers came to the conclusion “that the then Archbishop Cardinal Ratzinger can be accused of misconduct in cases of sexual abuse.”
A leading victims’ group, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, said Benedict should be punished by Pope Francis for his failure to act.
“If the Catholic Church really wants to make a profound statement, he should be stripped of the title ‘emeritus’,” Michael McDonnell of SNAP told The Telegraph.
Pope Francis had shown himself to be adept at making “frothy emotional appeals” to victims but had taken few concrete steps to crack down on clergy who sexually abuse minors, he said.
“It’s all part of the playbook of the Catholic Church. This is part of the continuing, systemic cover-up that has plagued this scandal for decades. Nothing changes. They are so divorced from the reality of what victims go through. When does it end?”
The Church has long been accused of turning a blind eye to predatory priests in countries around the world, simply transferring them from one parish or diocese to another and failing to report their behaviour to the police.
Benedict caused controversy in 2019 when he said the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church could be blamed on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and what he called a general collapse in morality in the Western world.