Retired Pope Benedict on Tuesday asked for forgiveness in what he called “errors” on how allegations of sexual abuse were handled while he was archbishop of Munich.
While he admitted to errors, his lawyers have argued he bears no direct responsibility. He did not apologize.
Then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict, now 94, was archbishop from 1977 to 1982.
He made the admission in a letter attached to a report released last month that looked into abuse in Munich from 1945 to 2019.
The report, which was commissioned by the archdiocese, identified around 500 victims of abuse. It alleged Benedict, who retired unexpectedly in 2013, failed to take action in four cases.
The letter is his first response to the report.
"I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate," he wrote.
He also expressed sympathy for the victims.
"I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen. ...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."
Benedict’s letter was accompanied by an analysis of the report by four lawyers he hired.
“As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse,” they wrote, adding that the report did not prove any evidence Benedict knew about the four cases.
Benedict’s letter drew the ire of abuse survivors who said the church was responsible for the “permanent relativizing on matters of abuse — wrongdoing and mistakes took place, but no one takes concrete responsibility.”
The group added, “Joseph Ratzinger can’t bring himself simply to state that he is sorry not to have done more to protect the children entrusted to his church. That would be an honest sentence.”
Some information in this report comes from Reuters and The Associated Press.