Vatican denies pope knew details of German paedophile priest case

Vatican denies pope knew details of German paedophile priest case

The Vatican on Friday dismissed a report in the New York Times suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI, during his past tenure as archbishop of Munich, was informed that a paedophile priest had been assigned pastoral work, but did nothing to stop it, dpa reported.

Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi referred to a statement on Friday by the archdiocese of Munich that described the allegations as "mere speculation."

In an article published Friday, the US-based newspaper said the future pope, Joseph Ratzinger, was copied in on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved for therapy in 1980 to overcome paedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment.

The priest, Peter Hullermann, was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.

The case resurfaced in the German media earlier this month in the wake of reports of widespread sexual abuse by priests at Catholic schools and institutions in Germany.

At the time, the archdiocese of Munich issued a statement in which it placed full responsibility for the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties on the then archbishop Ratzinger's deputy, Gerhard Gruber.

In its statement on Friday, the archdiocese said the New York Times article, "contains no new information beyond that which the archdiocese has already communicated concerning the then archbishop's (Ratzinger's) knowledge of the situation of Father H (Hullermann)"

"Thus, the archdiocese confirms the position, according to which the then archbishop (Ratzinger) had no knowledge of the decision to reassign Father H (Hullermann) to pastoral activities in a parish," the statement added.

"The then vicar general, Msgr (Monsignor) Gerhard Gruber, has assumed full responsibility for his own erroneous decision to reassign Father H (Hullermann) to pastoral activity," it said.

The New York Times article follows one on Wednesday in which the newspaper cited church and Vatican documents implicating Ratzinger in a 1996 decision not to defrock a US priest accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys.

Two US bishops urged the Vatican office led by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to let them hold a church trial against the priest, Lawrence Murphy, documents indicated.

But Ratzinger's deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the church's main disciplinary body - ruled that the allegations of abuse were made far too late and that Murphy, who was described as elderly and in ill health, should instead repent and be restricted from celebrating mass outside his diocese.

On Thursday, Lombardi issued a statement noting that the Murphy case had reached the Vatican only some 20 years after the diocese learned of the allegations against Murphy, who died in 1998.

Lombardi also denied the church's handling of the matter had precluded any civil action against Murphy. The spokesman noted how US authorities had investigated the allegations against Murphy, but had decided to drop the case.

Last Saturday Benedict issued a letter in which he, in the name of the Catholic church, apologized to victims of sexual molestation by priests in Ireland and in which he also rebuked that country's bishops for failing to act against the abusers.

The pontiff's letter was prompted by an Irish government report in 2009 that detailed hundreds of abuse case involving priests since the mid 1970s.

The report also accused several bishops of staging a cover-up to protect the church's reputation.

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