Report into the handling of clerical sexual abuse presented in Munich Report into the handling of clerical sexual abuse presented in Munich 

Report on abuse in Munich diocese: 497 victims in 74 years

A press conference presents the report by a law firm commissioned by the Church. The mandate was to look into the handling of abuse cases by the archbishops of Munich between 1945 and 2019, including then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni tells journalists: "We are waiting to examine the contents of the document” and expresses grief for abuses and closeness to all victims.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

At least 497 people were abused in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising over a period of almost 74 years (from 1945 to 2019). Most of them were young; 247 are male victims and 182 are female. Sixty percent of the victims were between the ages of 8-14. The report identifies 235 perpetrators of abuse including 173 priests, nine deacons, five pastoral workers, 48 people from the school environment. This is the data presented in the report on clerical abuse in the Church of Munich, compiled by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm, which was commissioned by the archdiocese in February 2020.

Two-hour press conference

The report was presented this morning during a two-hour press conference in the "Haus der Deutschen Wirtschaft," in the presence of representatives of the diocese but in the absence of Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Also present were members of the Archdiocesan Abuse Victims' Council. During the meeting, excerpts from the over 1,000-page report were read out by attorney Martin Pusch, head of the law firm in charge, and by attorney Marion Westphal.

Some of the numbers

The report, focused on the handling of past abuse cases, is based on information gathered through colloquiums and interviews with victims as well as those who held, and still hold, positions of responsibility in the archdiocese. Of the 71 people surveyed, 56 of them responded to the request. Statements were compared at the end of August 2021. The names of sixty-five "actual or suspected" perpetrators of abuse were submitted. According to experts, the number of unreported crimes would be "considerably higher."

Reviewing the management

Specifically, the report reviews the management of a succession of archbishops: Cardinals Michael von Faulhaber, Joseph Wendel, Julius Doepfner, Joseph Ratzinger, Friedrich Wetter, and Reinhard Marx. The report also examined Cardinal Ratzinger's years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Ratzinger, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, served as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. The independent commission reportedly identified four cases that occurred during the ministry of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, with those responsible for the abuses still remaining in office. The authors of the report believe he would have had responsibility, while acknowledging that the Pope Emeritus - as they put it - answered their questions and said he had no knowledge of the situation. The most egregious case, involving a priest from the diocese of Essen who was later transferred to Munich, has been known since 2010.

Statement expected on 27 January

During the conference, Pusch expressed his opinion that "errors" of behaviour should be attributed to Cardinal Marx regarding two cases of abuse in 2008. There has been a significant increase in the number of complaints since 2015.

The leadership of the Archdiocese of Munich was not aware of the contents of the report until its publication, with the exception of some preliminary reports in the German press. The Church of Munich will comment on the contents of the report, "after an initial examination," next Thursday, January 27.

Holy See Press Office statement

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, told reporters: "The Holy See considers that appropriate attention should be paid to the document, whose contents are presently unknown. In coming days, following its publication, the Holy See will be able to give it a careful and detailed examination."

He added, "In reiterating shame and remorse for abuses committed by clerics against minors, the Holy See expresses its closeness to all victims and reaffirms the efforts undertaken to protect minors and ensure safe environments for them.”

Archbishop Gänswein's reaction

The Pope Emeritus’ personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, answered questions put to him by journalists after the presentation of the report.

He affirmed that until this afternoon, Benedict XVI had no knowledge of the content of the over 1,000-page report the Westpfahl-Spilker-Wastl law firm. “In the coming days he will examine the text with the necessary attention,” he said.

Archbishop Gänswein added that “the Pope Emeritus, as he has already repeated several times during the years of his pontificate, expresses his shock and shame at the abuse of minors committed by clerics, and expresses his personal closeness and prayer for all the victims, some of whom he has met on the occasion of his apostolic journeys."

Comment from Cardinal O'Malley

Also on Thursday, Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, issued a comment on the report.

"The Holy See has committed to study the independent report that was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Munich and we await their response," he wrote. "The Church’s commitment to transparency and accountability are fundamental to its promise to all people, most especially those who have been abused."

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20 January 2022, 14:49