The Frauenkirche, the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. / Diliff via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5)
CNA Newsroom, Mar 22, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).
A potential legal case against Pope Benedict XVI over his handling of abuse during his time as archbishop of Munich has been dropped.
The public prosecutor’s office in Munich said on Tuesday it had “discontinued its investigations” against Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and Friedrich Wetter, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.
The accusations had been investigated in the wake of the Munich abuse report, which raised allegations that “there could be misconduct on the part of Church officials in positions of responsibility.”
Cardinal Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, served as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.
The Munich abuse report was released in January 2022 and faulted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his successors, Cardinals Friedrich Wetter and Reinhard Marx.
The study criticized the late German pope’s handling of four cases during his time in charge of the southern German archdiocese.
Benedict XVI, who strongly denied cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to investigators compiling the report.
On Tuesday, the public prosecutor’s office in the Bavarian capital of Munich said: “Insofar as suspicions arose from these events with regard to possible criminally relevant conduct by Church officials, separate preliminary investigation processes were initially entered.”
The office examined “in particular whether an ecclesiastical responsible person could have aided and abetted, through a personnel decision, an act of abuse committed later by a priest that was subject to the statute of limitations.”
In addition to Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Wetter, who served as Ratzinger’s successor until 2007 and has issued an apology, former vicar general Gerhard Gruber also had been named an accused.
Cardinal Marx, the current archbishop, last year apologized and said he considered offering Pope Francis his resignation for a second time. Marx was not subject to the investigation now dropped.
On Tuesday, the public prosecutor’s office said: “In each case, the investigations did not reveal sufficient suspicion of criminal activity on the part of those responsible for personnel, which is why the preliminary proceedings were discontinued.”
In two cases in which Cardinal Ratzinger was considered an accused, “the examinations led to the conclusion that either no main offense eligible for assistance could be proven or, in any case, such an offense could no longer be prosecuted due to the occurrence of the statute of limitations.”
“From a legal point of view, it must be emphasized that the object of investigation of the prosecutor’s investigations was not acts of abuse committed by the Church personnel managers themselves, but possible acts of aiding and abetting by active action or omission,” the prosecutor’s office said.
“The prerequisite for criminal aiding and abetting is first that a prosecutable offense (such as sexual abuse of children) is committed by another perpetrator (in this case by a priest). In a second step, it must then be examined whether and in what form an ecclesiastically responsible person aided and abetted this act.”
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, in a reaction, reaffirmed “its unconditional desire to clarify the matter and its unrestricted willingness to cooperate and support any state investigation,” CNA Deutsch reported.
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising called upon “victims and all those who have information about abuse in this and other contexts in the area of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising to contact the independent contact persons for suspected cases of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.”