Vatican Defends Pope Benedict XVI By Citing His History of Helping Sex Abuse Victims

In an editorial published Wednesday, the Vatican defended Pope Benedict XVI's record of handling sexual abuse cases in the church following a report the former pope had mishandled four cases of that nature in the 1970s and 1980s.

Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director for the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication, wrote the article that was published in the Vatican News.

This is the lengthiest response from the Vatican yet after German law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl released its report last week. Newsweek previously reported the law firm's report covered church officials' handling of sexual abuse allegations between 1945 and 2019.

The report accused Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of mishandling four cases when he was head of the Munich Archdiocese from 1977 to 1982. This allegedly also included approving the transfer of a pedophile priest to Munich in 1980 only for the priest to molest another boy in 1986.

In the editorial, Tornielli noted the report "is not a judicial inquiry nor a final sentence," but added that the reconstructions in the report will "help to combat pedophilia in the Church if they are not reduced to the search for easy scapegoats and summary judgments."

He also added that the former pope "did not evade questions" when the investigation began and provided the firm with an 82-page response after reviewing documents from the diocesan archives.

Instead of focusing on Benedict's time at the Munich Archdiocese, Tornielli referenced his time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as pope, saying he promoted "very harsh norms against clerical abusers" and "special laws" against pedophilia.

Tornielli also said Benedict did not treat abuse victims as "enemies" of the church, as others had apparently done before him.

"For too long abused children and their relatives, instead of being considered wounded persons to be welcomed and accompanied on the path of healing, have been kept at a distance," he wrote. "It was Joseph Ratzinger, the first Pope to meet several times with victims of abuse during his apostolic journeys."

The Associated Press reported that in 2001, while prefect of the doctrine office, Benedict noticed priests accused of sexual abuse and rape were being moved between parishes instead of being punished, which caused him to direct all cases to his office instead. In the last two years of his tenure, he defrocked almost 400 priests he found guilty of abuse.

According to the editorial, the former pope plans to release his own detailed statement on the issue once he finishes reading the report.

Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican, mass
A Vatican employee defended Pope Benedict XVI after a report said he mishandled sex abuse cases when he was head of the Munich Archdiocese. Above, Benedict attends a papal mass for elderly people at St Peter's square on September 28, 2014 at the Vatican. Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images