What did Joseph Ratzinger know about the repeat offender Priest H. in the abuse scandal? This already controversial question is given new fuel by an exchange of letters that has now become known, about which Correctiv and Bayerischer Rundfunk reported. As the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising confirmed on Tuesday, in 1986 Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the scandal priest permission, in a letter he signed himself, to celebrate Holy Mass with grape juice instead of wine.
The archdiocese had previously asked for this special permit and justified the request with the fact that the priest had committed crimes under paragraphs 174, 176 and 184 of the Criminal Code (StGB) under the influence of alcohol. The paragraphs deal with the sexual abuse of persons under protection, the sexual abuse of children and the dissemination of pornographic content.
Ratzinger, the later Pope Benedict XVI, who died on New Year's Eve last year. complied with this request, as a spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed: "There is this reply letter signed by Ratzinger."
In 1980, after allegations of abuse against him, priest H. was transferred from North Rhine-Westphalia to the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. At that time Ratzinger was archbishop there. During his lifetime, the later pope always denied having known about the allegations against H. at the time.
Proof that Ratzinger knew more?
The canon lawyer Thomas Schüller sees in the letter proof that Ratzinger knew more than he publicly admitted. The letter means that the later pontiff "was in the picture" about Priest H.'s sexual offenses, Schüller told the German Press Agency. "When a diocese applied to the competent Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for grape juice instead of wine for an alcoholic priest, they had to explain precisely the reasons for this exception. In this case, this is with reference to the increased risk that H child sexual abuse clearly happened."
The spokesman for the opera initiative "Eckiger Tisch", Matthias Katsch, told the dpa: "This news confirms what we said with regard to Benedikt's responsibility: Benedikt was by no means the great enlightener. At best, he acted under duress. As long as he was unobserved and was not under pressure, he stayed true to his line, which was the line of the church: understanding for the perpetrators and ignoring the victims."
The H. case was the most prominent in the report by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) law firm on sexual violence in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, which made the headlines last year. The chancellery also had the correspondence that has now become known, said the spokesman for the archdiocese. However, it does not appear in the report - probably because it was not included in the investigation order.
Souvenir permanently damaged
The study by the Munich law firm caused a stir in January 2022 because Ratzinger was personally accused of misconduct in several cases. The fact that he did not have to correct information that, as Archbishop of Munich, he did not take part in a meeting dealing with the repeated offender H., made headlines worldwide and is likely to have permanently damaged the memory of the Bavarian Pope.
After his transfer, H. relapsed and in 1986 - the year in which the archbishopric exchanged letters with Ratzinger - was sentenced by the Ebersberg district court to 18 months' imprisonment on probation and a fine of 4,000 marks for sexual abuse of minors.
Nevertheless, H. was reinstated as a pastor himself afterwards - and again abused children in Garching an der Alz. H. has sued one of his victims, as well as the archbishopric of Munich and the former cardinals Ratzinger and Friedrich Wetter because of accusations of cover-up. On March 28, the Traunstein district court is due to come to trial. The proceedings against Ratzinger are suspended until it is clear who will be his legal successor.
"The new situation will be included in the pending civil proceedings," said the plaintiff's lawyer, Andreas Schulz. "Ratzinger's shadow in the abuse case H. will persecute the church just as much as his sancto subito, which it prevented."