Pope Benedict XVI has pushed back against accusations that he knew in 1980 that a priest under his control was an abuser, while denying he had intentionally concealed his presence at a meeting about the priest that year.
Benedict, now 94, became the first Pope in centuries to resign when he stepped down in 2013. His eight-year tenure was overshadowed by a global sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
Most recently, Benedict has been under fire over his time as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, between 1977 and 1982, after a Church-commissioned report into abuse by Catholic clergy there was published last month.
The report found that he had been informed of four cases of sexual abuse involving minors – including two during his time in Munich – but failed to act. The report also revealed Benedict had attended a meeting about an abuser identified as Priest X, though the retired pontiff’s testimony to investigators denied he had been present.
Days after the report’s publication, the former pope admitted he had gone to the meeting, blaming his earlier denial to investigators on “an error in the editing of his statement.”
On Tuesday, four experts working for the retired pope said that although Benedict – then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – was at the meeting, he was not aware that the priest was an abuser.
“It was exclusively a question of the accommodation of the young Priest X in Munich because he had to undergo therapy there. This request was complied with. During the meeting the reason for the therapy was not mentioned,” the experts said.
The investigators’ findings – which have now directly implicated him in a failure to prevent and punish abuse – are threatening to wreck the reputation of the former pontiff.
Despite this, Benedict also said Tuesday he is “of good cheer” as he faces “the final judge of my life,” in a personal response to the accusations leveled against him in the probe.
“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life. Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings,” the retired pope wrote in a letter released by the Vatican.
Benedict again conceded that he had attended the 1980 meeting about an abusive priest, this time calling his denial to the lawyers who compiled the report an “oversight.”
“This error, which regrettably was verified, was not intentionally willed and I hope may be excused,” Benedict wrote.
He also issued a general apology to survivors of abuse, writing: “Once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness.”