Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI personally asked for forgiveness Tuesday from sex abuse victims after a German report detailed his possible knowledge and coverup of child sex abuse cases while serving as archbishop of Munich.
“I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” Pope Benedict said in an almost 1,000-word letter translated and released by the Vatican.
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Before becoming pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. The German report produced by the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastls alleges that he knowingly shielded offending priests and kept them active despite allegations of sexual abuse.
The report identified at least “497 victims of abuse, as well as 235 alleged perpetrators, including 173 priests, during the 74-year period,” according to Catholic News Agency.
Benedict also directly addressed the report’s claim that he attended a 1980 meeting where the transfer of a priest into the Munich diocese, who had previous known allegations of abuse, was approved.
The priest in question, Peter Hullerman, was accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy before being transferred to the Munich diocese, according to the Guardian. The report indicated that 23 victims, aged eight to 16, suffered abuse by Hullerman from 1973 to 1996.
“Amid the massive work of those days – the development of my position – an oversight occurred regarding my participation in the chancery meeting of 15 January 1980. This error, which regrettably was verified, was not intentionally willed and I hope may be excused,” the retired pope wrote. He later added he “did not lie or knowingly make a false statement” regarding this meeting.
Benedict, who is now 94-years-old and in frail condition, said after meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests, he has “seen at first hand the effects of a most grievous fault.” (RELATED: Report: Former Pope Benedict XVI Sick With Bacterial Infection, ‘Very Frail’)
“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. 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,” Benedict said.