By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis pledged Friday to bring justice to victims of clergy sex abuse, a day after an independent audit blamed his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, for botching four cases of abusive clergy when he was Archbishop of Munich, Germany.

Francis met with members of the Vatican office that handles sexual abuse cases at a previously scheduled annual hearing. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict before he became pope – for a quarter of a century.

In his speech, Francis did not refer to the findings of a long-awaited report on how the Archdiocese of Munich handled abuse cases from 1945 to 2019. Ratzinger served as archbishop there from 1977 to 1982.

But Francis said the Church continues to discern the way forward in the abuse scandal, which has discredited the Catholic hierarchy in the Vatican and around the world.

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“The Church, with the help of God, is committed with a firm determination to bring justice to the victims of abuses on the part of its members, by applying with particular attention and rigor the canonical legislation envisaged”, has Francois told the group.

He recalled that he had recently updated Vatican standards for handling cases of abuse to make them more effective.

“It may not be enough to stem the phenomenon, but it is a necessary step to restore justice, repair the scandal and reform the offender,” he said.

The German report prepared by an independent law firm found that Ratzinger mishandled four abusive clergy cases during his tenure as archbishop. Until Thursday, only one known case involving his tenure in Munich had been made public.

One of the report’s authors, Martin Pusch, said negligence constituted misconduct. Two of the cases, he said, involved perpetrators who were punished by the German justice system but kept in church pastoral work without express limits on what they were allowed to do. No action was ordered under canon law.

In a third case, a cleric who had been convicted by a court outside Germany was commissioned in the Archdiocese of Munich, and the circumstances indicate that Ratzinger was aware of the priest’s background, Pusch said.

The fourth case had already appeared publicly in 2010. It involved a pedophile priest whose transfer to Munich for therapy had been approved under Ratzinger in 1980. The priest was allowed to return to pastoral work, a decision that the church said a lower-ranking official had taken over. without consulting the Archbishop. In 1986, the priest received a suspended sentence for assaulting a boy.

Another of the report’s authors, Ulrich Wastl, said Benedict XVI’s claim that he did not attend a meeting in 1980 where the priest’s transfer to Munich was discussed lacked credibility.

Munich prosecutors said they were looking at 42 cases of possible wrongdoing by church officials stemming from Thursday’s report. Spokeswoman Anne Leiding told German news agency dpa that the cases were referred to them by the law firm that prepared the report last year.

If suspicion of “potentially criminally relevant conduct” emerges from the review, Leiding said, prosecutors will seek additional details from the law firm.

The law firm said Thursday that the cases involve living officials who are still in office.

The Vatican did not immediately comment on the report, saying it would read it carefully in the coming days. Benedict XVI’s longtime secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, also said the retired pope had not yet read the report but would.

Benedict, who provided information to the report’s authors, expressed his displeasure and shame at the scandal, Gaenswein said.

Benedict XVI’s legacy as pope had already been colored by the clergy abuse scandal around the world, even though as cardinal he was responsible for reversing the Vatican’s approach to the issue.

Ratzinger made the then-revolutionary decision in 2001 to take responsibility for handling abuse cases after realizing that bishops around the world were not punishing abusers but simply moving them from parish to parish and allowing them to violate again. .

This move, however, came after Ratzinger was still sitting on business in the Vatican. Years ago, documents emerged showing that in 1985 Ratzinger dithered on the case of a convicted pedophile in California who asked to be defrocked, delaying any action for two years.

The case of Rev. Stephen Kiesle was proof that the Vatican under St. John Paul II strongly opposed priests leaving active ministry, even if convicted of rape.

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