Former pope Benedict XVI, who is accused in a German report of failing to stop clerical child sex abuse, is shocked by the issue but must examine the text, his spokesman said.
Pope emeritus Benedict failed to stop four clergymen accused of abuse in the Catholic Church in Munich, the law firm that carried out a key inquiry has said.
The ex-pontiff - formally Josef Ratzinger - was the archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.
"The Pope Emeritus, as he has already repeated several times during the years of his pontificate, expresses his shock and shame at the abuse of minors committed by clerics," his assistant Georg Ganswein said in a statement today.
He added that the 94-year-old ex-pontiff had no knowledge of the content of the 1,000-page report until this afternoon, and would examine it with the "necessary attention" in the coming days.
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A damning independent report commissioned by the German church concluded today that Benedict knowingly failed to take action to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in Munich in the 1980s.
Benedict had denied any responsibility, said the lawyer for the German firm that compiled the report, Martin Pusch of Westpfahl Spilker Wastl.
He added that experts do not consider this credible.
Two of the cases involved clergymen who had committed several proven acts of abuse but were allowed to continue with pastoral duties, Mr Pusch said.
An interest in the abuse victims was "not recognisable" in Benedict, he said.
In one case, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.
Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history.
In 1986, by which time Benedict had been transferred to the Vatican, he was convicted of molesting more children and given a suspended prison sentence.
Even after the conviction, he continued to work with children for many years and his case is regarded as a pertinent example of the mishandling of abuse by the church.
The ex-pope has denied knowing about the priest's history, but the lawyers said they were now convinced this was not the case.
Mr Pusch said the pope emeritus had initially shown an "defensive attitude" when responding to questions for the report. However, he later changed his attitude and gave a detailed written statement.
The ex-pope provided an 82-page statement in response to questions from WSW, according to German media reports.
The pope emeritus "takes the fates of the abuse victims very much to heart" and is fully "in favour of the publication of the Munich report", his spokesman Georg Gaenswein told the Bild daily.
Benedict, 94, in 2013 became the first pope to step down from the role in 600 years and now lives a secluded life in a former convent inside the grounds of the Vatican.
In words that echoed those of Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni issued earlier in the day, Mr Ganswein said Benedict expressed his "personal closeness and his prayers for all the victims, some of whom he has met during his apostolic journeys".
Bruni emphasised that the Vatican must still examine the report, "the contents of which are not currently known", but reiterated its "sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors committed by clerics".
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, was also found to have failed to act in two cases of suspected abuse.
The reformist Catholic group 'Wir sind Kirche' (We are Church) called on the ex-pontiff to take responsibility for what happened while he was in charge of the Munich diocese.
"An admission by Ratzinger that through his actions or inactions, knowledge or ignorance, he was personally and professionally complicit in the suffering of many young people would be... an example for many other bishops and responsible persons," it said in a statement.
Germany's Catholic Church has been rocked by a string of reports in recent years that have exposed widespread abuse of children by clergymen.
A study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen in the country had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.
However, the real number of victims is thought to be much higher.
The abuse scandal has thwarted the Catholic Church's efforts to spearhead broad reforms in Germany.
It counted 22.2 million members in 2020 and is still the largest religion in the country, but the number is 2.5 million fewer than in 2010 when the first major wave of paedophile abuse cases came to light.
Payouts for victims of abuse were increased in 2020 to up to €50,000, from around €5,000 previously, but campaigners say the sum is still inadequate.
Ahead of the publication of the Munich report, the Eckiger Tisch victims' group called for "compensation instead of hollow words".
"Far too many children and young people have fallen victim" to a system "shaped by abuse of power, in transparency and despotism", said Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the group.