ROME (AP), -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI asked for forgiveness Tuesday for his "grievous errors" in handling clergy sex abuse cases. However, he denied any personal or particular wrongdoing following an independent report that criticized his actions during his time as archbishop of Munich.
The lack of an apology from Benedict or an admission of guilt on his part immediately angered survivors of sexual abuse. They claimed that it was a reflection of the Catholic hierarchy's refusal to accept responsibility in the rape and sodomy committed by priests.
Benedict, 94, responded to Jan. 20's report by a German law company that was commissioned to investigate how cases of sexual abuse in the Munich archdiocese were handled between 1945 and 2019. From 1977 to 1982, Benedict, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the archdiocese's leader.
The report criticized Benedict's handling four cases while he was archbishop. It also accused him of misconduct for failing to limit the ministry of the priests, even though they were convicted. His predecessors and successors were also criticized. The report estimated that there were at least 497 victims of abuse over the years and at most 235 suspected perpetrators.
On Tuesday, the Vatican released a response from Benedict to the allegations along with a more technical reply by his lawyers. The initial 82-page response was about Benedict's nearly five-year tenure at Munich.
Benedict's lawyers reached a firm conclusion: "As archbishop Cardinal Ratzinger wasn't involved in any covering up of acts of abuse," the writers wrote. They criticised the report's writers for misinterpreting their submission and claimed that they did not provide any evidence that Benedict knew about the criminal histories of any of four priests.
Benedict's response was more spiritual and nuanced, but he continued to thank his legal team for their help before addressing the allegations or the victims.
Benedict stated, "I have had great responsibilities within the Catholic Church." "All the more is my sorrow for the abuses, and the errors that took place in those various places during my mandate."
He called it a "confession" but didn't admit to any particular fault. He reminded us that every day, believers must confess their sins to God and ask forgiveness for all "grievous faults".
He wrote, "And I have come across that we ourselves are drawn into the grievous fault whenever it is neglected or not confronted with the necessary decisiveness. "As I said in those meetings, I can once again only express my deep shame, my deep sorrow, and my sincere request for forgiveness to all victims of sexual abuse."
Eckiger Tisch, an organization representing survivors of clergy abuse in Germany, quickly criticized his response. They said that it was part of the church's permanent relativizing on abuse matters -- wrongdoings and mistakes occurred, but no one takes specific responsibility."
The group stated that Benedict could not bring himself to simply say that he regretted not doing more to protect the children entrusted by his church.
Retired pope's reaction will likely complicate efforts of German bishops in trying to reestablish credibility among the faithful, whose demands have increased after decades and decades of abuses and coverup.
Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing (head of German bishops conference) had stated that Benedict should respond to the report and disengage himself from his lawyers. Baetzing stated, "He must speak, and he must ignore his advisers. He must essentially state the following sentence: "I incurred guilt. I made mistakes, and I am sorry to all."
Baetzing, however, only mentioned Tuesday that Benedict had replied in a tweet.
Baetzing wrote, "I am grateful for him for that" This tweet did not address Benedict's actual response.
According to the law firm's report, Ratzinger was charged with misconduct in failings to take action against abusers in four cases.
Two cases concerned priests who offend while Ratzinger was archbishop. They were sent to prison by the German legal systems, but they were allowed to continue their pastoral work and remain in full-time ministry. The third case was about a cleric who was sentenced by a court in Germany, but was later placed into ministry in Munich. A fourth case was about a convicted priest who was convicted of pedophile abuse and allowed to move to Munich in 1980. He was later placed into ministry. The priest was sentenced to a suspended sentence in 1986 for molesting a boy.
Benedict's team had previously clarified an "error" in the submission they made to the law firm, which had insist Ratzinger wasn't present at the 1980 meeting where Ratzinger's transfer to Munich was discussed. They said that Ratzinger was present, but that the priest's return was not discussed.
Benedict stated that he was deeply upset by the "oversight," about his 1980 attendance at the meeting, used to "cast doubt upon my truthfulness and even to call me a liar," but that he was encouraged by the support he received.
He said, "I am especially grateful for the confidence and support that Pope Francis personally offered to me."
After the law firm report, the Vatican strongly supported Benedict's record. It recalled that Benedict was the first pope who met with victims of abuse and that he had established strong norms to punish priests for rape children. The Vatican also directed the church towards humility to seek forgiveness for its clerics' crimes.
However, the defense of Vatican focused on Benedict's tenure at Holy See's doctrine officer and his eight-year reign as papacy.
In his letter, Benedict thought about his legacy.
He wrote, "Quite soon I will find myself before the last judge of my life." "Even though I can see my long life with great fear and trembling, it is still a reason to be cheerful. Because I believe that the Lord isn't only the judge but also the brother and friend who has suffered from my faults."
Benedict's response was also hollow outside Germany. The U.S-based survivor advocacy group, SNAP accused him of repeating "words of apology that have fallen upon deaf ears for decades".
Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, who is famous for representing hundreds of victims of abuse, stated that Benedict's words insulted and revictimized survivors.
He said, "He's a leader setting poor examples morally and in the process he encourages further coverup of clergy sexual abuse."
Pope Francis' top advisor on preventing abuse was Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley. He found Benedict's letter sincere and "contribution for what has been lacking" in his stewardship.
O'Malley stated that Benedict's admission of the irreparable damage caused by sexual abuse in church is a challenge for all church leaders. We must do better.