Benedict Leaves a Conflicted Legacy on Clerical Sexual Abuse

Earlier than he led the Roman Catholic Church as Benedict XVI, and earlier than he loomed over the church as a powerhouse cardinal and the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog, Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich, attended a 1980 assembly a few priest in northwestern Germany accused of abusing kids.

What precisely transpired through the assembly is unclear — however afterward, the priest was transferred, and over the following dozen years moved round Bavaria to completely different parishes earlier than he ended up within the tiny village of Garching an der Alz, the place he sexually abused Andreas Perr, then 12.

“It feels so heavy,” Mr. Perr stated on Tuesday, puffing cigarettes exterior the home the place he was molested, just some steps from the white steeple of the village church. He stated his abuse had led him down a highway marred by medicine and jail whereas Archbishop Ratzinger had risen up the ranks of the church. Talking of the retired Pope Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday, he added, “to think about the ability that one particular person may have over your life.”

A report final yr commissioned by the Catholic Church in Munich accused Benedict of mishandling instances of sexual abuse by monks. Benedict apologized for any “grievous faults” however denied any wrongdoing.

The scourge of kid sexual abuse within the church haunted Benedict, from the start of his rise by the hierarchy to his final yr as a frail, retired pope, when the Munich investigators added a last complication to a deeply conflicted legacy.

To supporters, he’s the chief who first met with victims and — greater than anybody earlier than him — compelled the church to lastly face its demons, change its legal guidelines and do away with a whole bunch of abusive monks. He raised the age of consent and included weak adults in legal guidelines that protected minors. He allowed the statutes of limitations on sexual abuse to be waived.

To critics, he protected the establishment over the victims in its flock, failed to carry even a single bishop accountable for shielding abusers and didn’t again up his phrases with motion. He most popular to maintain self-discipline in home, by no means requiring instances to be reported to the civil authorities.

“We are able to be pleased about what Benedict XVI did in bringing the combat towards abuse within the church to a brand new stage by introducing tighter procedures and new legal guidelines,” stated the Rev. Hans Zollner, one of many Vatican’s high specialists in safeguarding minors and in sexual abuse. “He was the primary pope to satisfy with survivors of abuse. On the identical time, given the report that in his years as archbishop of Munich he failed to present due consideration to victims of abuse and maintain perpetrators accountable, we can’t ignore that victims and others are hurting.”

Mr. Perr, now 38, remains to be making an attempt to rebuild a life after what the church put him by. He’s now not a member of the Catholic Church.

As Archbishop Ratzinger ascended to higher heights, Mr. Perr’s life spiraled into an ever deeper abyss. His mom refused to consider him, and he fled residence and bought into heavy medicine like heroine, residing out on the streets.

“After it occurred, I began having nightmares,” he stated. “That’s what made me begin doing medicine. I needed to cease dreaming, to cease feeling responsible and disgusting. I simply didn’t wish to really feel something anymore.”

Over time, Mr. Perr ended up in jail twice, getting out on parole solely final yr.

That was when he discovered the felony lawyer Andreas Schulz, after studying Ms. Schulz was representing different abuse victims of the identical priest. Collectively, they determined to goal larger: They’d file a civil lawsuit, not simply towards the priest accused of molesting him and a number of other boys in Garching, but in addition towards the Archdiocese of Munich and Joseph Ratzinger, then its archbishop.

Earlier than Benedict died, the pope emeritus employed a big worldwide regulation agency and stated he deliberate to defend himself in a trial set to begin this yr. Now, Mr. Schulz and his shopper plan to pursue the case even in his dying, they usually nonetheless wish to maintain Benedict XVI, or the inheritor to his property, accountable.

Mr. Schulz stated it would even be Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, who inherits case, ought to he change into Benedict’s inheritor. The lawyer argued that the church ought to settle for the trial as a possibility to lastly clear up the difficult historical past Benedict XVI left behind.

“His theological achievements are one facet of his legacy,” Mr. Schulz stated. “However there are shadows that dangle over him, and people shadows can solely be eliminated now if the appropriate factor is finished and accountability is accepted. That’s one thing solely Pope Francis can do now, and that’s what our trial is making an attempt to push towards: Individuals need transparency, they need acceptance of accountability, they need compensation.”

Accounts similar to Mr. Perr’s have change into painfully acquainted within the church over latest many years. The revelation of systemic abuse gutted dioceses and chased away the trustworthy in international locations all around the globe.

In america, a scandal that erupted in Boston has shaken practically each a part of the nation. The church in Eire, as soon as a fortress for Catholicism, was so decimated by abuse scandals that Benedict in 2010 wrote the primary pastoral letter from a pope on the problem of abuse. “You’ve suffered grievously, and I’m actually sorry,” he wrote. A 2021 report in France alleged that a whole bunch of hundreds of youngsters had been abused by the church there.

Church leaders, who as soon as thought-about the disaster an invention of liberals and attorneys, or an issue of Anglophone international locations drummed up by an anti-Catholic information media, now acknowledge that it’s in every single place, and Francis, after his personal missteps, launched guidelines to carry the hierarchy extra accountable.

However supporters of Benedict, and even his critics, acknowledge that Francis constructed on Benedict’s reforms. Earlier than the deluge that overwhelmed the church, the instances dripped in through the Eighties — typically from English-speaking international locations — and fell on his desk on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Religion.

In 1988, he pressed the Vatican’s canon regulation division — which required lengthy church trials to deal with accusations — to present him a freer hand to extra rapidly take away abusive monks. It refused, arguing that such a transfer would deprive monks of due course of, and consequently, bishops sought to treatment them with prayer and remedy or just relocated abusers to different parishes, the place they preyed on extra kids.

However Cardinal Ratzinger’s workplace additionally did not act in egregious instances. Within the Nineteen Nineties, it halted a secret trial of an American priest who had molested as many as 200 deaf boys and wrote to the cardinal insisting the priest had already repented. He was by no means defrocked.

In 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger persuaded Pope John Paul II to let him attempt to get the issue beneath management. He drafted a church regulation that required bishops to ahead all credible allegations of abuse to the Vatican, the place his workplace was made answerable for the instances.

He backed up American bishops who sought to undertake a “zero tolerance” coverage that expelled monks who engaged in a single episode of sexual abuse. . As John Paul reached the tip of his hold forth in 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger ordered a evaluation of the pending instances in his division.

In 2005 for the Good Friday By way of Crucis procession at Rome’s Colosseum, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “How a lot filth there may be within the church, particularly amongst those that, within the priesthood, are speculated to belong completely” to Christ.

When he grew to become pope, he disciplined — and finally defrocked — the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a serial abuser and the Mexican founding father of the spiritual order the Legionaries of Christ. A prodigious fund-raiser, Father Maciel had received the loyalty of Pope John Paul II and his internal circle, which had for years blocked Benedict’s efforts to research him.

“The problem may be very combined and sophisticated,” stated Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse who resigned in frustration in 2017 from a Vatican fee on defending minors created by Francis. She stated that Benedict’s studying of so many instances as head of the doctrinal congregation made him “grasp the enormity of the issue when he grew to become pope,” and that he introduced in new procedures towards sexual abuse.

Ms. Collins stated that it was “unfair to make an excessive amount of” of the errors he made in dealing with instances throughout his personal private ministry, when he was a bishop in Germany, however that Benedict, as pope, “didn’t do sufficient in-depth work on the problem or pursue it to the fullest.”

For a lot of, he didn’t go practically far sufficient.

Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of, a victims advocacy and analysis group, stated in a press release the day of Benedict’s dying that he “left a whole bunch of culpable bishops in energy and a tradition of secrecy intact.”

On Tuesday night within the Munich cathedral that Benedict led as bishop 40 years in the past, the present archbishop, Reinhard Marx, started a Mass in honor of Benedict by inviting everybody to wish, together with “those that have skilled abuse and struggling within the area of the church. All those that have obtained good presents from Joseph Ratzinger. And all those that now, on this hour, belief that God’s goodness and mercy will heal every thing.”

Jason Horowitz reported from Rome, and Erika Solomon from Munich and Garching an der Alz, Germany. Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.