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Ex-Pope Benedict admits he was at meeting about abusive priest

The admission comes days after a report into sexual abuse in Germany faulted Benedict for his lack of action against four abusive priests when he was archbishop of Munich.
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Retired Pope Benedict XVI admitted on Monday that he did attend a meeting in Munich in 1980 where an abusive priest was discussed, saying an earlier denial was the result of an editing mistake.

The admission comes days after a report into sexual abuse in Germany faulted Benedict for his lack of action against four abusive priests when he was archbishop of Munich.

Lawyers who drew up the report said Benedict had “strictly” denied responsibility in response to the accusations.

At a news conference in Munich to present their findings on Thursday, the lawyers contested an assertion made by Benedict that he did not recall attending the 1980 meeting to discuss the case of an abuser priest. They said this contradicted documents in their possession.

On Monday Benedict’s private secretary confirmed the ex-pope did attend the meeting after all.

In a statement published and translated by the German Catholic paper Die Tagespost and the Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Georg Gänswein said that Benedict “would like to make it clear now that, contrary to what was stated during the hearing, he did attend the Ordinariate meeting on January 15, 1980.”

“He would like to emphasize that this was not done out of bad faith, but was the result of an error in the editing of his statement,” it added. “He is very sorry for this mistake and he apologizes for this mistake.”

Then Archbishop of Munich and Freising Josef Ratzinger in Munich, Nov. 1981.AFP - Getty Images file

At the meeting, the attendees granted a request for accommodation for the priest in question during therapeutic treatment in Munich, the statement said. They did not decide on any pastoral assignment for him.

The priest was allowed to resume pastoral work, a decision that the church has said was made by a lower-ranking official without consulting the archbishop, the Associated Press reported.

Gänswein said in the statement that Benedict planned to explain how the error happened after he finishes examining the report.

“He is carefully reading the statements set down there, which fill him with shame and pain about the suffering inflicted on the victims,” Gänswein said. A complete review “will take some time due to his age and health,” he added.

NBC News has reached out to the Vatican and to Gänswein for comment. The Vatican’s in-house Vatican News portal reported on the statement provided to the Catholic News Agency in German.

The report into sexual abuse in Germany’s Munich diocese, released last Thursday, found that Benedict failed to act in four cases between 1977 and 1982 when he was archbishop of Munich.

“In a total of four cases, we came to the conclusion that the then-archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger, can be accused of misconduct,” said one of the reports’ authors, Martin Pusch, referring to Benedict’s name before he was made Pope.

The report also faulted Munich’s current archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, an important ally of Pope Francis.

In a statement Marx apologized on behalf of his archdiocese “for the suffering inflicted on people in the church over the past decades.”

Last year, Marx offered to resign over the church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases, saying that the scandals had brought the church to “a dead end.”

The archdiocese commissioned the report from law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl nearly two years ago, to look into abuse between 1945 and 2019 and whether church officials handled allegations correctly.

Benedict, now 94, resigned as pontiff in 2013. He served in Munich from 1977 to 1982 before becoming the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later becoming Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at St. Peter's basilica in The Vatican in December 2015. Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images file

Last year, Pope Francis said that a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the abuse crisis. However, he rejected the resignation offered by Marx then.

A church-commissioned report concluded in 2018 at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger, and nearly a third served as altar boys.

In cities across the U.S. the church has faced an avalanche of child sexual abuse accusations over the last few decades.

A 2002 investigation by The Boston Globe, later dramatized in the movie “Spotlight,” exposed how pedophile priests were moved around by church leaders instead of being held accountable.

Child sexual abuse allegations have also been made Australia, South America and a number of European countries over the last few decades.