A parishioner from Bogotá (Colombia) holds a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI during his funeral, at the beginning of 2023.RAUL ARBOLEDA (AFP)
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The Munich Prosecutor's Office has closed the investigation against Pope Benedict XVI for his possible involvement in the cover-up of several cases of pedophilia while he was archbishop in Munich and Freising, between 1977 and 1982. The Prosecutor's Office stated at a press conference on Tuesday that there are not "sufficient suspicions of criminal action" by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger —first name of the late pontiff— and that, if they had occurred, they would have already prescribed.
The chief prosecutor, Hans Kornprobst, has stressed that the investigations have not revealed "sufficient suspicions" against the other officials of the bishopric who were also being investigated: the then vicar general of the diocese, Gerhard Gruber, and Ratzinger's successor, the Cardinal Friedrich Wetter.
The investigators have based their decision on the report on abuses prepared by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) law firm, commissioned by the same Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and published in January 2022. According to senior prosecutor Hans Kornprobst, this document is from “ great importance” for canonical revaluation and social debate, but which turns out to be “little productive” in terms of criminal law.
The report listed 235 alleged perpetrators from 1945 to 2019, including 173 priests.
The number of victims is 497, although he made it clear that the number of unreported cases was probably much higher.
From the point of view of the lawyers, 67 clergymen deserved a canon law sanction for the "high level of suspicion."
In 43 cases, however, this was not done.
A total of 40 of them continued to be employed in pastoral care, including 18 priests who had been convicted.
In the pages of this study, Benedict XVI was singled out for failing to take action in at least four cases when he was archbishop.
Benedict, who resigned as pontiff in 2013, acknowledged at the beginning of 2022 that there had been errors in the management of these episodes and apologized.
His lawyers argued that he was not guilty.
defendant in court
In November 2022, Benedict XVI was accused before a German court of having helped pedophiles cover up their crimes.
Months earlier, in July of that year, a 38-year-old man filed a complaint in which he reported that he had been abused by a priest when he was a child.
The victim accused both the priest, identified as Peter H., as well as Ratzinger, Wetter, and another diocese official, these three for cover-up.
During the press conference, Kornprobst has refuted the accusations that the judiciary treats the Church with kid gloves.
“Members of the Church are investigated as much as politicians, celebrities, athletes or police officers.
And the Church has no special rights under criminal law”, she has stated.
Kornprobst attested to the "unrestricted cooperation" of the archbishopric and his "unconditional desire to clarify the matter."
As explained by the prosecutor responsible for the investigation, Angela Miechielsen, of the 45 cases listed in the WSW report, six were relevant to the judicial authority for possible prosecutable crimes.
Among them was the case of the priest H., who had been transferred from Essen to Munich in 1980. The priest had been sentenced to a suspended sentence for child abuse by the Ebersberg District Court in 1986, but was later reinstated in the pastoral care of the parish.