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March 12 (Bloomberg) — Pope Benedict XVI, during his tenure as archbishop of Munich, played a role in a decision to move a priest accused of sexual molestation to his diocese to undergo therapy, the church said today.
The priest was later reassigned by another church official and committed more abuse, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising said in a statement on its Web site. Benedict, at the time Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, “was involved” in a 1980 decision to move the priest, identified only as “H.,” from a church in Essen, Germany, to a rectory in the Munich region for treatment, the diocese said.
A former vicar-general in the church administration, Gerhard Gruber, subsequently allowed the accused priest to continue pastoral duties, during which he committed abuse and was convicted by a court in 1986. Gruber said in the statement that the decision to re-post “H.” was his alone.
“The repeated employment of ‘H.’ in pastoral duties was a serious mistake,” Gruber said. “I take full responsibility for this and I deeply regret that this decision led to offenses against youths — I apologize to all those who were harmed by this.”
A wave of allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests has emerged in Germany this year, beginning at an elite Jesuit high school in Berlin, Canisius-Kolleg. The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, last month issued an apology to more than 100 pedophilia victims, echoing Benedict’s statement that such abuse is a “heinous crime.”
Benedict met with Zollitsch today in Rome, after which the German archbishop told reporters that the 82-year-old pontiff “listened with great distress and interest” to his report on the abuse and was “deeply upset” by the sexual crime.
Benedict has struggled to contain the damage to the church’s reputation from European sex-abuse scandals. He was accused by victims’ rights groups of being slow to respond to Irish investigations last year that documented “endemic” abuse of children since the 1930s by priests in Ireland.
A spokesman for the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, said the pope was “extraneous” to the events in Munich and referred to the statement issued by the archdiocese.
“The statement was clear about Gruber assuming full responsibility for what happened,” Lombardi said by phone. The story was reported earlier by the Sueddeutsche-Zeitung.
Relationships With Boys
When Ratzinger’s church made the initial decision to transfer H. for therapy, documents show that the decision-makers likely knew the treatment involved H.’s “sexual relationships with boys,” the archdiocese said in the statement.
According to the church in Munich, police later began to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct committed by H. while he was a pastoral care assistant near Munich in 1985. After his removal from service, he was sentenced to an 18-month suspended sentence and fined 4,000 deutsche Marks ($2,815).
He continued to be active after undergoing psychological treatment and from October 2008 worked in pastoral care for “health treatment and tourism,” though wasn’t permitted to work in youth activities, the Munich archdiocese said.
An assessment ordered by the current archbishop, Reinhard Marx, “does not justify” H.’s service in church duties.
The abuse scandal’s spread to the Bavarian-born pope’s homeland was highlighted this week when his older brother, 86- year-old Georg Ratzinger, responding to abuse allegations in his diocese, said he regretted slapping students when he was director of the Regensburg Cathedral choir.
In an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse, the older Ratzinger said he’d always had a “bad conscience” about hitting boys, though allegations of sexual abuse had never been raised while he was in office.
Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope in 2005, was appointed archbishop of Munich in 1977 at age 49, after spending most of his life as a theology professor and Catholic intellectual. He served the Bavarian church until Pope John Paul II transferred him to Rome in 1982 to oversee the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which polices church dogma.
The leader of more than a billion Catholics, Benedict has made some efforts to deal with child-abuse scandals since he became pope in April 2005. He visited the U.S. and Australia for the first time in 2008 and apologized to victims of abuse, becoming the first pontiff to do so.
Last Updated: March 12, 2010 15:09 EST