Former pope Benedict XVI has asked for forgiveness for any “grievous faults” in his handling of clergy sex abuse cases in his archdiocese when he was archbishop of Munich, but admitted to no personal or specific wrongdoing.
In a letter – following the release of an independent report which criticised his actions in four cases – Benedict reflected on his legacy noting that he is at the end of his life and will soon be judged by God.
“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” the 94-year-old said.
He was responding to a report on 20 January from a German law firm that had been commissioned by the Munich archdiocese to look into how cases of sexual abuse were handled between 1945 and 2019.
Benedict, the former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.
The report’s authors accused him of misconduct for having failed to restrict the ministry of the priests in the cases even after their criminal convictions.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” the retired pope said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Vatican released a letter Benedict wrote to respond to the allegations, along with a more technical reply from his team of lawyers and advisers who had provided an initial 82-page response to the law firm about his nearly five-year tenure in Munich.
“As an archbishop, cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse,” they wrote.
They added the report provided no evidence that Benedict was aware of the criminal history of any of the four priests in question.
Benedict noted that in his meetings with abuse victims while he was pope, “I have seen at first hand the effects of a most grievous fault”.
“As in those meetings, once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” he wrote.
Benedict has been living in the Vatican since resigning as pontiff in 2013.