Pope Benedict XVI Asks for Forgiveness Over Handling of Church Abuse Cases

Former Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged in a letter published earlier this week by the Vatican that he failed to act against other church officials who were accused of sexual abuse when he was the Archbishop of Munich-Freising.

The former pope apologized for his inaction, expressing "profound shame, my deep sorrow," the letter states. He also asked for forgiveness in the letter from the victims and from God.

The letter marks the now 94-year-old former pope's first public comments in response to a report commissioned by his former archdiocese that was released last month. The report alleged that Pope Benedict knew about at least four clergy members who were found to have committed sexual abuse, and the men remained in their roles within the archdiocese while he was archbishop.

Pope Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratiznger, served as the archbishop in Munich from 1977 to 1982, and the report analyzed allegations of abuse and how they were handled by church officials from 1945 through 2019.

The report identified at least 497 victims over that 74 year period, four of which were during Benedict's time as archbishop, according to The New York Times.

Shortly after the report was published, Benedict's secretary told a German news outlet that Benedict was, in fact, at a January 1980 meeting over potentially moving one of the allegedly abusive priests, something the former pope had not confirmed prior to the publication of the report. At the time and again in Benedict's letter February 6, he apologized for the "oversight" and said it was a simple mistake that he did not admit to being at the meeting.

"To me it proved deeply hurtful that this oversight was used to cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar," Benedict wrote.

During his career in the church, Benedict wrote, he has met with many victims who had been abused by priests, and "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. I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church," Benedict wrote. "All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate. Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable. The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy and I feel great sorrow for each individual case."

Pope Benedict resigned in 2013, citing "exhaustion," becoming the first pope in over 600 years to do so, the BBC reported.

Update 2/8/2022 11:55 a.m.:This story was updated with additional context on the pope's response to the report released last month.

Pope Benedict XVI Church Sexual Abuse Forgiveness
Former Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter earlier this week apologizing for his mishandling of sexual abuse cases while he was an archbishop in Germany. Above, Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims for the last time as head of the Catholic Church from the window of Castel Gandolfo where he will start his retirement today on February 28, 2013, in Rome, Italy. Franco Origlia/Getty Images